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News from Home

  • Directed by Chantal Akerman
  • France/Belgium/West Germany, 1977, 85 mins., French

Akerman returned to New York in 1976, having blazed a trail in Europe with her extraordinary Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. She was travelling back to a city of decay (decidedly not decadence) with letters her mother had written to her when she was in New York in 1972. These letters provide the soundtrack for News From Home—accounts of daily life, life as lived in distant Belgium, invoked by means of observation and parcels of news. Who is addressing whom is no simple matter. The film shows New York, its streets, subways, tall buildings, diners and citizens going about their business. Sound might be in sync or not. Akerman has described her murmuring voiceover of her mother’s letters as psalmody (the singing of psalms or sacred canticles in public worship), which evokes the prayerful effect, the mingling of longing, the provoking of guilt and the offer of love. The closing scenes of departure and voyage play without the presence of the voice. Such an absence allows perhaps for a new note of optimism—to proceed, one must depart. “One of the best depictions of the alienation of exile that I know.”—Jonathan Rosenbaum.

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.