Histoires d’Amérique (Food, Family, and Philosophy)

Shot in New York, Akerman’s first English-language film Histoires d’Amerique conjures up an informal history of Jewish life over the past 100 years through a series of eyewitness accounts, re-created by a group of largely unknown actors. All are Jewish of the first and second generation and all have jokes, stories and anecdotal proof from real-life testimony that something that defines them has survived, despite loss, trauma and death. This may be the new world, but the horror of the old is never far from the surface. Akerman once said, “Instead of learning my family’s story directly from my parents, I had to turn to literature.” The film recalls Waiting for Godot, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s shtetl tales, Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose, and the badchen of the old country (the jesters hired to add vim to Ashkenazi weddings before Nazis put an end to that world). As Akerman has said, “When history becomes impossible to bear, there is only one thing to do: send yourself up and laugh.” Nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear award, Berlin International Film Festival, 1989.

Other Films by Chantal Akerman

Nuit et jour (Night and Day)

Julie and Jack, recently arrived in Paris, are a young couple from the provinces who spend their days making love and their nights apart, while Jack drives a taxi and Julie walks the streets, waiting for him to come home.  Their vague aspirations take a backseat to their constant passion. “Music” resonates throughout—Julie sings wordlessly

From the Other Side

On the Mexico-US border, the twin towns of Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona—far from the population centers of Juarez/El Paso or Tijuana/San Diego—are home to both hopeful, persistent immigrants and resilient, spiteful permanent residents. As with most of Akerman’s documentary work, she brings a keen, searching eye to this most barren of places, in

Sud

The work of James Baldwin and William Faulkner long influenced Chantal Akerman’s work and life, and she had long planned to shoot a film about the American south — and finally, an opportunity came just before the new millennium. But in Jasper, Texas, mid-1998, James Byrd, Jr., an African-American man, was dragged behind a vehicle

Toute une nuit

One summer night in Brussels, sweltering heat stifles the community, which draws people out of their comfort zone and into despair. Akerman explores a series of on-the-brink relationships—break-ups, reconciliations—in the context of this hottest night of the year, where defenses are built, but at the same time, are down. Nearly wordless yet filled with subtle

Almayer’s Folly

With Almayer’s Folly, Akerman tackles the terrible legacy of the European colonial project in Southeast Asia head-on through an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s late-19th-century novel of the same name. Crucially, Akerman makes a handful of changes, transposing Conrad’s Cambodia for Malaysia and Conrad’s 19th Century for the 1950s, the tail end of direct colonial control.