Chantal Akerman’s decision to become a film-maker was sparked by seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, 1965. Photograph: Kenneth Saunders
Chantal Akerman, one of the pioneers in feminist filmmaking, died on this Monday, October 5, 2015, in Paris. Although according to her friends, she committed a suicide, “The cause of her death was not immediately known.”, says Sylviane Akerman, Chantal’s sister.
According to her friends and colleagues, Ms. Akerman, after she lost her mother last year, had been in dark emotional states. He had recently been hospitalized for depression, returning home to Paris 10 days ago, her sister said. The former head of Cannes Film Festival, Gilles Jacob, tweeted “Ms. Akerman could not stand to live one more second.”
The New York Film festival is currently screening her latest film, “No Home Movie” which she had been expected to attend.Making the film, which circles around her mother’s inability to talk about her experience at the death camp, took a heavy emotional toll on Ms. Akerman. “I think if I knew I was going to do this, I wouldn’t have dared to do it,” she told The New York Times in a recent interview.
Her best known film is Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxells which she made at her age of 25. The film portrays a widowed housewife’s daily activities in which she prepares food, does chores, and receives a gentleman who pays her for having sex. The minimalist repetition draws to a traumatic climax. “A couch in new York”, her most commercial film, about an apartment swap between a New york psychologist and a young Parisian woman, starring Juliette Binoche and William Hurt, was released in 1996.
She had her own style of making film that a very few people would acknowledge the underlying theme of her films. “Many people never understood her cinema,” Mr. Mazzanti,the director of the Royal Belgian Film Archive, said. He likened some critical comments to the way some people look at a drip painting by Jackson Pollock “and say, ‘I could do that.’ ”
From the outset, Ms. Akerman was captivated by the violence that can erupt from the quotidian. Her first film, “Saute Ma Ville” (“Blow Up My City”), was a short film which she made at her age of 18 years after she dropped out of a Belgium film school. With a voice-over of cheerful humming and singing, the film shows her dancing about her kitchen, then leaning her head on gaslit burners before the screen goes dark and the room explodes.
“Almayer’s Folly” (2011) was her most recent feature film. This was an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s first novel, which she shot in Cambodia. She also directed “La Captive” (2000), an adaptation from Proust, whose work, she said in her recent interview to BBC,had always been important to her.
Her other films include “News From Home” (1977), a cinematic version of letters home from her time in New York; “A Whole Night” (1982), about the tug of war between lovers; and a number of travelogues, which took her to post-Communist Eastern Europe in “From the East” (1993), the American South in “South” (1999) and Israel in “Over There” (2006).
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.