Chantal Akerman

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Chantal Akerman
Chantal Akerman - video still (cropped).jpg
Chantal Akerman in 2012
Chantal Anne Akerman

(1950-06-06)6 June 1950
Died5 October 2015(2015-10-05) (aged 65)
Cause of deathSuicide
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter, artist, and film professor
Years active1968–2015
Notable work
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Chantal Anne Akerman (French: [akɛʁman]; 6 June 1950 – 5 October 2015) was a Belgian film director, screenwriter, artist, and film professor at the City College of New York.[1] She is best known for Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), which was dubbed a "masterpiece" by The New York Times. According to film scholar Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Akerman's influence on feminist filmmaking and avant-garde cinema has been substantial.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Akerman was born in Brussels, Belgium, to Holocaust survivors from Poland.[3] She was the older sister of Sylviane Akerman, her only sibling. Her mother, Natalia (Nelly), had survived years at Auschwitz, where her own parents were murdered.[4] From a young age, Akerman and her mother were exceptionally close, and she encouraged her daughter to pursue a career rather than marry young.[5]

At age 18, Akerman entered the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle et des Techniques de Diffusion, a Belgian film school. Akerman dropped out during her first term to make the short film Saute ma ville; she funded the film's costs by trading diamond shares on the Antwerp stock exchange.[6]


Akerman had an extremely close relationship with her mother, captured in some of her films. In News from Home (1976), Akerman's mother's letters outlining mundane family activities serve as a soundtrack throughout the film.[7] The 2015 film No Home Movie centers on mother-daughter relationships, largely situated in the kitchen, and is a response to her mother's death.[8] The film explores issues of metempsychosis,[8] the last shot of the film acting as a memento mori of the mother's apartment.[7]

Akerman acknowledged that her mother was at the center of her work and admitted to feeling directionless after her death.[7] The maternal imagery can be found throughout all of Akerman's films as an homage and an attempt to reconstitute the image and voice of the mother.[7] In Family in Brussels, Akerman narrates the story, interchanging her own voice with her mother's.[7]


Early work and influences[edit]

Akerman claimed that, at the age of 15, after viewing Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou (1965), she decided, that same night, to become a filmmaker. In 1971, Akerman's first short film, Saute ma ville, premiered at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.[9] That year, she moved to New York City, where she remained until 1972.

At Anthology Film Archives in New York, Akerman was impressed with the work of Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Michael Snow, Yvonne Rainer, and Andy Warhol.

Critical recognition[edit]

Her first feature film, Hotel Monterey (1972), and subsequent short films La Chambre 1 and La Chambre 2 reveal the influence of structural filmmaking through these films' usage of long takes. These protracted shots serve to oscillate images between abstraction and figuration. Akerman's films from this period also signify the start of her collaboration with cinematographer Babette Mangolte.

In 1973 Akerman returned to Belgium, and in 1974 she received critical recognition for her feature Je, Tu, Il, Elle (I, You, He, She). Feminist and queer film scholar B. Ruby Rich noted that Je Tu Il Elle can be seen as a "cinematic Rosetta Stone of female sexuality".

Akerman's most significant film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, was released in 1975. Often considered one of the greatest examples of feminist filmmaking, the film makes a hypnotic, real-time study of a middle-aged widow's stifling routine of domestic chores and prostitution. Upon the film's release, The New York Times called Jeanne Dielman the "first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema". Chantal Akerman scholar Ivone Margulies says the picture is a filmic paradigm for uniting feminism and anti-illusionism.[6] The film was named the 19th greatest film of the 20th century by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice.[10]


Akerman has acknowledged that her cinematic approach can be explained, in part, through the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.[11] Deleuze and Guattari write about the concept of minor literature as being characterized by the following things:

  • 1. Minor literature is the literature that a minority makes in a major language; the language is effected by a strong co-efficient of deterritorialization.
  • 2. Every individual matter is immediately plugged into political because minor literature exists in a narrow space.
  • 3. Everything has a collective value: what the solitary writer says already has collective value.[12]

Deleuze and Guattari claim that these characteristics describe the revolutionary conditions within the canon of literature.[12] Akerman has referenced Deleuze and Guattari on how, in minor literature, the characters assume an immediate, nonhierarchical relation between small individual matters and economic, commercial, juridical, and political ones.[11] While the filmmaker has an interest in multiple deterritorializations, she also considers the feminist demand for the exercise of identity, where a borderline status may be an undesirable position.[13]


Akerman has used the setting of a kitchen to explore the intersection between femininity and domesticity.[14] The kitchens in Akerman's work provide intimate spaces for connection and conversation and serve the function of a backdrop to the dramas of daily life.[14] The kitchens, alongside other domestic spaces, act as self-confining prisons under patriarchal conditions.[14] In Akerman's work, the kitchen acts as a domestic theatre.[15]

Although Akerman is often grouped within feminist and queer thinking, the filmmaker has articulated her distance from an essentialist feminism.[11] Akerman resists labels relating to her identity like "female", "Jewish" and "lesbian", choosing instead to immerse herself in the identity of being a daughter; Akerman has stated that she sees film as a "generative field of freedom from the boundaries of identity".[8] The filmmaker has advocated for multiplicity of expression, explaining that "when people say there is a feminist film language, it is like saying there is only one way for women to express themselves".[11] The filmmaker asserted that there are as many cinematic languages as there are individuals.[8]

Writer and scholar Ivone Marguiles notes that Akerman's resistance to be categorized is in response to the rigidity of cinema's earlier essentialist realism and "indicates an awareness of the project of a transhistorical and transcultural feminist aesthetics of the cinema".[11]

Akerman works with the feminist motto of the personal being political, complicating it by an investigation of representational links between private and public.[11] In Jeanne Dielman, Akerman's most well-known film, the main protagonist does not supply a transparent, accurate representation of a fixed social reality.[11] Throughout the film, the housewife and prostitute Jeanne is revealed to be a construct, with multiple historical, social, and cinematic resonances.[11]

Akerman engages with realist representations, a form which is historically grounded to act as a feminist gesture and simultaneously as an "irritant" to fixed categories of "woman".[11]

Later career[edit]

In 1991, Akerman was a member of the jury at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival.[16] In 2011, she joined the full-time faculty of the MFA Program in Media Arts Production at the City College of New York as a distinguished lecturer and the first Michael & Irene Ross Visiting Professor of Film/Video & Jewish Studies.[17]


Important solo exhibitions of Akerman's work have been held at the Museum for Contemporary Art, Antwerp, Belgium (2012), MIT, Cambridge Massachusetts (2008), the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel (2006); Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ (2006); and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2003). Akerman has participated in Documenta XI (2002) and the Venice Biennale (2001).

In 2011, a film retrospective of Akerman's work was shown at the Austrian Film Museum.[18]

The 2015 Venice Biennale included an installation of interspersed parallel screens displaying the landscape-in-motion footage that would appear in "No Home Movie".

In 2018, the Jewish Museum presented her final video installation NOW (2015) in the exhibition Scenes from the Collection, and acquired her work for the collection.[19]


Akerman's cinematography is characterized by the dryness of language, the lack of metaphorical associations, the composition in a series of discontinuous blocks, the interest in putting a poor, withered syntax and reduced vocabulary at the service of a new intensity.[12] Many directors have cited Akerman's films as an influence on their work.[14] Kelly Reichardt, Gus Van Sant, and Sofia Coppola have noted their exploration of filming in real time as a tribute to Akerman.[14]

Terrie Sultan, art historian, claims that Akerman's "narrative is marked by an almost Proustian attention to detail and visual grace".[20] Similarly, Akerman's visual language resists easy categorization and summarization: The filmmaker creates narrative through filmic syntax instead of plot development.[21]

Akerman was influenced by European art cinema as well as structuralist film.[8] Structuralist film used formalist experimentation to propose a reciprocal relationship between image and viewer.[8] Akerman cites Michael Snow as a structuralist inspiration, especially his film Wavelength, which is composed of a single shot of a photograph of a sea on a loft wall, with the camera slowly zooming in.[8] Akerman was drawn to the perceived dullness of structuralism because it rejected the dominant cinema's concern for plot.[8] As a teenager in Brussels, Akerman skipped school in order to see movies, including films from the experimental festival in Knokke-le-Zoute.[8]

Akerman addresses the voyeurism that is always present within cinematic discourse by often playing a character within her films, thus placing herself on both sides of the camera simultaneously.[8] The filmmaker used the boredom of structuralism in order to generate a bodily feeling in the viewer, accentuating the passage of time.[8]

Akerman's filming style relies on capturing ordinary life. By encouraging viewers to have patience for a slower pace, her films emphasize the humanity of the everyday.[21] Kathy Halbreich states that the filmmaker "creates a cinema of waiting, of passages, of resolutions deferred".[22]

Many of Akerman's films portray the movement of people across distances or their absorption with claustrophobic spaces.[8] Curator Jon Davies states that Akerman's domestic interiors "conceal gendered labour and violence, secrecy and shame, where traumas both large and small unfold with few, if any witnesses".[8]


Akerman died on 5 October 2015 in Paris; Le Monde reported that she died by suicide.[23] She was 65.[3][24][25] Her last film was the documentary No Home Movie, a series of conversations with her mother shortly before her mother's death; of the film, she said: "I think if I knew I was going to do this, I wouldn't have dared to do it."[26]

According to Akerman's sister, she recently had been hospitalized for depression and then returned home to Paris ten days before her death.[3]


Year Title Length Notes English
1968 Saute ma Ville 13 minutes Blow up My Town
1971 L'enfant aimé ou Je joue à être une femme mariée 35 minutes The Beloved Child, or I Play at Being a Married Woman
1972 La Chambre 1 11 minutes Akerman was also film editor The Room 1
1972 La Chambre 2 11 minutes Akerman was also film editor The Room 2
1972 Hotel Monterey 62 minutes
1973 Le 15/8 42 minutes co-directed by Samy Szlingerbaum
Akerman was also joint cinematographer and film editor
1973 Hanging Out Yonkers 90 minutes unfinished
1974 I, You, He, She 90 minutes
1975 Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles 201 minutes
1976 News from Home 85 minutes
1978 Les Rendez-vous d'Anna 127 minutes Meetings with Anna
1980 Dis-moi 127 minutes Tell Me
1982 Toute une nuit 89 minutes All Night Long[27]
1983 Les Années 80 82 minutes The Eighties
1983 Un jour Pina à demandé 57 minutes One Day Pina Asked Me
1983 L'homme à la valise 60 minutes The Man With the Suitcase
1984 J'ai faim, j'ai froid 12 minutes segment for Paris vu par, 20 ans après I'm Hungry, I'm Cold
1984 New York, New York bis 8 minutes lost
1984 Lettre d'un cinéaste 8 minutes Letter from a Filmmaker
1986 Golden Eighties 96 minutes Window Shopping
1986 La paresse 14 minutes segment for Seven Women, Seven Sins Sloth
1986 Le marteau 4 minutes The Hammer
1986 Letters Home 104 minutes
1986 Mallet-Stevens 7 minutes
1989 Histoires d'Amérique 92 minutes Entered into the 39th Berlin International Film Festival[28] Food, Family, and Philosophy
1989 Les trois dernières sonates de Franz Schubert 49 minutes Franz Schubert's Last Three Sonatas
1989 Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher 12 minutes Three Stanzas on the Name Sacher
1991 Nuit et jour 90 minutes Entered into the 48th Venice International Film Festival Night and Day
1992 Le déménagement 42 minutes Moving In
1992 Contre l'oubli 110 minutes Akerman directed one short segment Against Oblivion
1993 D'Est 107 minutes From the East
1993 Portrait d'une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles 60 minutes Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 1960s in Brussels
1996 Un divan à New York 108 minutes A Couch in New York
1997 Chantal Akerman par Chantal Akerman 64 minutes
1999 Sud 71 minutes South
2000 La Captive 118 minutes Collaboration with Eric de Kuyper The Captive
2002 De l'autre côté 103 minutes Akerman was also one of three cinematographers From the Other Side
2004 Demain on déménage 110 minutes Collaboration with Eric de Kuyper Tomorrow We Move
2006 Là-bas 78 minutes Akerman was also cinematographer with Robert Fenz
2007 Tombée de nuit sur Shanghaï 60 minutes segment for O Estado do Mundo
2011 La Folie Almayer 127 minutes Almayer's Folly
2015 No Home Movie 115 minutes Akerman was also cinematographer

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chantal Akerman, Whose Films Examined Women's Inner Lives, Dies at 65". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey, ed. (2003). Identity and Memory: The Films of Chantal Akerman. SIU Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-0809325139.
  3. ^ a b c Donadio, Rachel; Buckley, Clara (6 October 2015). "Chantal Akerman, Pioneering Belgian Filmmaker, Dies at 65". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  4. ^ Romney, Jonathan. "Chantal Akerman obituary". the Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  5. ^ "Chantal Akerman: My family and other dark materials". Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  6. ^ a b Margulies, Ivone. "A Matter of Time: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  7. ^ a b c d e Lebow, Alisa (2016). "Identity Slips: The Autobiographical Register in the Work of Chantal Akerman" (PDF). Film Quarterly. 1 (70): 54–60.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Davies, Jon (2016). "Every Home A Heartache: Chantal Akerman". C: International Contemporary Art (130).
  9. ^ Margulies, Ivone (1996). Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's hyperrealist everyday. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-8223-1723-0.
  10. ^ Hoberman, J. (2001) [4 January 2000]. "100 Best Films of the 20th Century: Village Voice Critics' Poll". The Village Voice (reprint ed.). Reprinted by AMC.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Marguilles, Ivonne (1996). Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 32. ISBN 9780822317265.
  12. ^ a b c Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix; Brinkley, Robert (1983). "What Is A Minor Literature?". Mississippi Review. 3 (1).
  13. ^ Marguilles, Ivonne (1996). Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 25. ISBN 9780822317265.
  14. ^ a b c d e Donadio, Rachel (25 March 2016). "The Director's Director: Chantal Akerman". New York Times.
  15. ^ Akerman, Chantal; Sultan, Terrie (2008). Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space. Bluffer Gallery, Art Museum of the University of Houston: Distributed Art Publishers. p. 7.
  16. ^ "Berlinale: 1991 Juries". Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  17. ^ "Chantal Akerman feature is tapped for New York Film Festival | The City College of New York". 18 September 2015.
  18. ^ "Scenes from the Collection". The Jewish Museum. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  19. ^ Akerman, Chantal; Sultan, Terrie (2008). Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space. Bluffer Gallery, Art Museum of the University of Houston: Distributed Art Publishers. p. 26.
  20. ^ a b Akerman, Chantal; David, Catherine; Michael, Tarantino (1995). Bordering On Fiction: Chantal Akerman's D'Est. Minneapolis, Walker Art Center: New York: Distributed Art Publishers. p. 54.
  21. ^ Akerman, Chantal; David, Catherine; Michael, Tarantino (1995). Bordering On Fiction: Chantal Akerman's D'Est. Minneapolis, Walker Art Center: New York: Distribured Art Publishers. p. 26.
  22. ^ Isabelle Regnier (6 October 2015). "La cinéaste Chantal Akerman est morte". Le Monde. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  23. ^ Julien Gester (6 October 2015). "Mort de la cinéaste Chantal Akerman". Libération. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  24. ^ Catherine Shoard (6 October 2015). "Chantal Akerman, pioneering Belgian film director and theorist, dies aged 65". Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  25. ^ Rapold, Nicolas (5 August 2015), Chantal Akerman Takes Emotional Path in Film About 'Maman', The New York Times, retrieved 24 November 2015
  26. ^ "Paradise Films - Movies". 30 January 2014. Archived from the original on 5 November 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  27. ^ "Berlinale: 1989 Programme". Retrieved 11 March 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sultan, Terrie (ed.) Chantal Akerman: Moving through Time and Space. Houston, Tex.: Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston ; New York, N.Y.: Distributed by D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2008.
  • Fabienne Liptay, Margrit Tröhler (ed.): Chantal Akerman. Munich: edition text + kritik, 2017.
  • White, Jerry (2005). "Chantal Akerman's Revisionist Aesthetic". In Jean Petrolle & Virginia Wright Wexman (ed.). Women & Experimental Filmmaking. Urbana: University of Illinois. ISBN 0252030060.
  • Smith, Dinitia (26 April 1998). "Chantal Akerman and the Point of Point of View". The New York Times.
  • Rosen, Miriam (1 April 2004). "In Her Own Time". Artforum International. Retrieved 14 May 2015 – via Questia Online Library.
  • Searle, Adrian (15 July 2008). "Smoke and mirror-images". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  • Gandert, Sean (28 August 2009). "Salute Your Shorts: Chantal Akerman's Saute ma ville". Paste. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  • Schenker, Andrew (15 January 2010). "Eclipse Series 19: Chantal Akerman in the Seventies". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
  • McGill, Hannah (4 November 2012). "Leading the Way for the Flair Ladies". The Sunday Herald. Washington, D.C. Archived from the original on 9 April 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2015 – via HighBeam Research.
  • Holly Rogers and Jeremy Barham (ed.): The Music and Sound of Experimental Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

External links[edit]

Media related to Chantal Akerman at Wikimedia Commons