Chantal Akerman

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Chantal Akerman
Chantal Akerman - video still.jpg
Chantal Akerman in 2012
Born Chantal Anne Akerman
(1950-06-06)6 June 1950
Brussels, Belgium
Died 5 October 2015(2015-10-05) (aged 65)
Paris, France
Cause of death Suicide
Nationality Belgian
Occupation Artist, film director, professor, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer
Years active 1968–2015
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, artist and professor of film at the City College of New York.[1] Her best-known film is Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). 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] Her mother Natalia (Nelly) had survived years at Auschwitz, where her own parents had died.[4] From a young age, Akerman and her mother were incredibly 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 film Saute ma ville, subsidizing the film's costs by trading diamond shares on the Antwerp stock exchange.[6]


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 make movies. In 1971, Akerman's first film Saute ma ville premiered at the Oberhausen short-film festival.[7] 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. She stated that Snow's La Région Centrale introduced her to the relations among film, time and energy.[citation needed]

Saute Ma Ville (Blow Up My Town)[edit]

Saute Ma Ville (1968), translated into English as Blow Up My Town, is a low-budget, black-and-white short film. [8] The film acts as a tragicomic “day in the life” exposition, with 18 year-old Akerman as the main protagonist. [9] With this film, Akerman begins to explore issues of women at work and at home. [10]

The film’s style is inspired by Jean-Luc Godard. [11] The young protagonist rushes into the building where she resides, checks her mail and runs to her apartment. The accompanying soundtrack features a voice humming a tune. Then, as the protagonist is making dinner, the soundtrack switches to the word “Scotch”, meaning “put an end to, smash, destroy”. [12] (10), signifying the morbid inner voice of Akerman’s character. The protagonist proceeds to seal the doors of the kitchen using scotch tape, preparing for suicide in between completing daily tasks, such as mopping, cooking and eating dinner. The protagonist is simultaneously plotting to asphyxiate herself in her kitchen and blow up her apartment while going through the routine of daily rituals. Throughout the film, the character becomes more frantic and erratic. Akerman exaggerates daily tasks, as a commentary on social rituals and women’s roles in domesticity. [13] The protagonist begins polishing her shoes, then polishes her socks and then her leg. The character dances in front of a mirror, puts on lotion, and finally, turns on the gas stove and lights a piece of paper on fire. The soundtrack imitates the hissing of the gas leak. This scene is filmed through the mirror; the protagonist holds a bouquet of flowers. The film ends with the screen going black and the off-screen sounds of gunfire.

Critical recognition[edit]

Her feature Hotel Monterey (1972) and shorts 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, the director of photography on La chambre (1972), Hôtel Monterey (1972), Hanging Out Yonkers (1973), Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) and News from Home (1977). In 1973, Akerman returned to Belgium and in 1974 received critical recognition for her feature I, You, He, She.

Akerman's most significant film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was released in 1975. Often considered one of the great feminist films, 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.[14]

Later career[edit]

In 1991, Akerman was a member of the jury at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival.[15] In 2011, she joined the full-time faculty of the MFA Program in Media Arts Production at the City College of New York.

Identity aesthetics[edit]

Akerman avoided labels and refused to have her work featured in LGBT film festivals, saying she found them ghettoizing.[16] About her film Je Tu Il Elle, Akerman said: I wrote a story that I liked. Everybody thought it was political. But it was a normal love story. It's not a feminist movie. I'm not saying it's a gay movie. If I did, then you go to it with preconceived notions.[17] According to the book Images in the Dark by Raymond Murray, Akerman refused to have her work ghettoized and denied the New York Gay Film Festival the right to screen I, You, He, She. "I will never permit a film of mine to be shown in a gay film festival."[18]


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


Akerman died on 5 October 2015 in Paris. Le Monde reported that she committed suicide.[20] She was 65.[3][21][22] 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."[23] According to Akerman's sister, she had recently been hospitalized for depression, returning home to Paris 10 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 Hotel Monterey 65 minutes
1972 La Chambre 1 11 minutes The Room 1
1972 La Chambre 2 11 minutes The Room 2
1973 Le 15/8 42 minutes co-directed by Samy Szlingerbaum
1973 Hanging Out Yonkers 90 minutes unfinished
1975 Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles 201 minutes
1976 News from Home 85 minutes
1976 I, You, He, She 90 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[24]
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[25] 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 From the Other Side
2004 Demain on déménage 110 minutes Collaboration with Eric de Kuyper Tomorrow We Move
2006 Là-bas 78 minutes
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


  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 2015-10-10. 
  5. ^ "Chantal Akerman: My family and other dark materials". Retrieved 2016-02-27. 
  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. ^ Margulies, Ivone (1996). Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's hyperrealist everyday. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-8223-1723-0. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Davies, Jon (Summer 2016). "Every Home A Heartache: Chantal Akerman". C: International Contemporary Art. 21 (16). 
  13. ^ 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. 9. 
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "Berlinale: 1991 Juries". Retrieved 2011-03-21. 
  16. ^ Bendix, Trish (2015-10-06). "Lesbian filmmaker Chantal Akerman dies at 65". AfterEllen. Retrieved 2016-02-21. 
  17. ^ Smith, Dinitia (1998-04-26). "FILM - Chantal Akerman And the Point Of Point of View". Retrieved 2016-02-21. 
  18. ^ Murray, Raymond. Images in the Dark: An Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video. Titan Books. p. 2. ISBN 9781840230338. 
  19. ^ Isabelle Regnier (6 October 2015). "La cinéaste Chantal Akerman est morte". Le Monde. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  20. ^ Julien Gester (6 October 2015). "Mort de la cinéaste Chantal Akerman". Libération. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  21. ^ Catherine Shoard (6 October 2015). "Chantal Akerman, pioneering Belgian film director and theorist, dies aged 65". Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  22. ^ Rapold, Nicolas (5 August 2015), Chantal Akerman Takes Emotional Path in Film About 'Maman', The New York Times, retrieved 24 November 2015 
  23. ^ "Paradise Films - Movies". 2014-01-30. Archived from the original on 2014-11-05. Retrieved 2016-02-21. 
  24. ^ "Berlinale: 1989 Programme". Retrieved 2011-03-11. 

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.
  • White, Jerry (2005). "Chantal Akerman's Revisionist Aesthetic". In Jean Petrolle & Virginia Wright Wexman. 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 HighBeam Research. (subscription required (help)). 
  • 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. Retrieved 14 May 2015 – via HighBeam Research. (subscription required (help)). 

External links[edit]

Media related to Chantal Akerman at Wikimedia Commons