'I Don't Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman': Film Review

Courtesy Icarus Films
An affecting final portrait, for ardent fans.

Marianne Lambert's documentary features an extensive interview with the Belgian filmmaker who committed suicide last year at age 65.

Early in Marianne Lambert's documentary about the life and work of Chantal Akerman, the late Belgian filmmaker says that she never wanted her films to be shown at gay, women's or Jewish film festivals. So it's no small irony that I Don't Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman received its U.S. premiere at the New York Jewish Film Festival. It will begin a theatrical engagement at NYC's Film Forum on March 30.

Akerman, who committed suicide last October at the age of 65, was deeply devoted to her Holocaust survivor mother, the subject of her final film, 2015's No Home Movie. As seen in the documentary, her mother's recent death still haunted her.

"I realized that deep down my mother was at the heart of my work," the filmmaker says, before plaintively adding, "Now that my mother is no longer there, there's no one left."

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The film largely consists of interviews conducted with Akerman in such locations as Brussels, Tel Aviv, Paris and New York City. One lengthy segment features the filmmaker expounding on the theme of confinement while perched above a large, ungainly metal sculpture planted in the Israeli desert.

Eschewing a chronological or coherently thematic approach, the film also features numerous clips from Akerman's films, including, among others: Je Tu Ill Elle (1974), News from Home (1976), Le Rendez-vous d' Anna (1974), and her most famous, highly acclaimed effort, 1975's Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai de Commerce. American director Gus Van Sant offers effusive testimony as to the strong influence of that film on his own work, using a clip from Last Days as an example.

Akerman ruefully discusses her most atypical effort, A Couch in New York, a romantic comedy starring William Hurt and Juliette Binoche that seemed to aim for the mainstream but turned out to be an artistic and commercial disaster which, the filmmaker points out, neither her loyal fans nor anyone else bothered to see.

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Akerman also comments at length on the revolutionary, feminist-themed Jeanne Dielman, which she seems to regret having "thrown in the face of my mother and women of that generation."

We get insights into another of her more controversial films, Les rendez-vous d'Anna, from its star, Aurore Clement, who says that she was warned by Jeanne Dielman actress Delphine Seyrig to avoid the premiere. As Clement tells it, the audience reaction to the film was so violently negative that she had to be escorted out of the theater.

The documentary is more of an impressionistic portrait than a comprehensive account of Akerman's work, and the director's fans will probably be frustrated by the brief running time and scattershot approach. But it provides a haunting coda, especially in its eerie final shot in which Akerman, seen from the rear, walks down a long road. About halfway through, she stops and looks back at the camera with a half-smile on her face. It's as if she was saying goodbye.

Venue: New York Jewish Film Festival

Production: Cinematheque de la Federation Wallonie –Bruxelles, Artemis Productions

Distributor: Icarus Films

Director: Marianne Lambert

Screenwriters: Luc Jabon, Marianne Lambert

Producers: Patrick Quinet, Francis Dujardin

Director of photography: Remon Fromont

Editor: Marc De Coster

Composer: Casimir Leberski

Not rated, 67 minutes

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