Chantal Akerman

Traversing the Land of Cinema

A COLLECTION OF 11 texts, 40 film pages, 2 events, 1 news item

“The way I would like to film corresponds to the idea that the land one possesses is always a sign of barbarism and blood, while the land one traverses without taking it reminds us of a book.” 
- Chantal Akerman

Chantal Akerman (1950-2015) was a pioneering Belgian film director, screenwriter, producer, artist, and writer whose career spanned four decades. Born in Brussels to a Jewish family, Akerman’s early exposure to cinema began with Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965), which inspired her to take up filmmaking at the Brussels film school INSAS. However, she left the rigid confines of film school prematurely to pursue her own approach to filmmaking. She made her debut in 1968 with the short film Saute ma ville, in which the then eighteen-year-old Akerman shuts herself away in her apartment and goes about her business in a strangely manic way. After leaving INSAS, Akerman moved to New York, where she encountered the experimental cinema of Jonas Mekas, Michael Snow, and Andy Warhol. Their work would have a great impact on her filmmaking. The films she created during her time there include La chambre (1972) and Hôtel Monterey (1973).

Upon her return to Belgium, she directed Je, tu, il, elle (1974) and then raised the necessary funds to produce Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). Jeanne Dielman documents three days in the life of a widow, played by the iconic French actress Delphine Seyrig. For more than three hours the camera follows in minute detail as she tidies the apartment, peels the potatoes, prepares dinner, polishes her son’s shoes, goes shopping, and prostitutes herself every afternoon. The repetitive rituals of her daily routine, and the long and static shots create a simultaneous sense of intimacy and discomfort, turning the viewer into an active participant in the unfolding, small narrative. These studies of domestic and relational dramas and scenes often return in Akerman’s work. In 2022, the once-a-decade Sight and Sound poll voted Jeanne Dielman the greatest film of all-time.

Akerman made a total of more than 40 films, including Les rendez-vous d’Anna (1978), Toute une nuit (1982), Le captive (2000), La folie Almayer (2011), and the documentary trilogy DʼEst (1993), Sud (1999), and De lʼautre côté (2002). Akerman’s work is defined by a great creative freedom as it wanders between genres, between experimental and classical cinema, between fiction and documentary, musical comedy and literary adaptation. For example, Chantal Akerman also tried her hand at the musical with Golden Eighties (1986), a tragicomic musical comedy set in the Galerie de la Toison d’Or in Brussels.

Her oeuvre extends beyond her filmography into installation art and writing. In 1995, she created a large spatial installation on 25 monitors based on D’Est (1993), a film originally made as a documentary, marking the start of her “second career” within the world of visual art. She reconfigured more of her documentary and fictional works, like Sud (1999), De lʼautre côté (2002), Là-bas (2006), Tombée de nuit sur Shanghai (2009), and La chambre (2012) into installations. Chantal Akerman’s writing was also met with great acclaim. Her most renowned written work, My Mother Laughs (2013), is a collection of reflections written in between caring for her dying mother.

This collection provides an overview of the available English-language texts on Sabzian on the work of Chantal Akerman as well as a complete multilingual annotated filmography.1 2


From 1950 to 1995

Jacqueline Aubenas, 1995

“I was in Brussels, I didn’t like cinema at all, I thought it was for idiots, all they took me to see was Mickey Mouse or things like that... and then I saw Pierrot le fou and I had the impression that it spoke of our times, of what I felt. Before, it was always The Guns of Navarone. And I didn’t give a damn about those things. I don’t know, but it was the first time I had been moved by a film, and I was moved violently. And no doubt I wanted to do the same thing with films that would be mine.”

From 1996 to 2015

Gerard-Jan Claes, Tillo Huygelen, 2024

“I understand people who say that this film will be their last. Then, a few years later, they make another. People tell them, but you said... Yes, I said that. As for me, I never said anything. But I’d thought about it hard after Divan, it had been too difficult... That wasn’t why I’d wanted to make films, having been inspired by Pierrot le fou. With that film of mine, I’d truly become an adult. Joined the world of adults who act like adults. I’d left behind the minority that Deleuze speaks of and I’d fallen into the noise. Yes, with Divan, I’d stopped dwelling on the nothing that my mother talks of when she says, there’s nothing to add.”

A Film by Chantal Akerman

Chantal Akerman, 1997

The day I decided to think about the future of cinema, I told myself I wouldn’t live to see it. I asked myself if the future is always in front of us. So I looked ahead, then I turned around. 

On Chantal Akerman

Dirk Lauwaert, 1975
Introduction by Gerard-Jan Claes

It is not a complicated or difficult film, rather a very simple and clean one. But it is not a natural, spontaneous film. The clarity and legibility of Jeanne Dielman is the result of self-discipline. In our culture clarity needs to be pragmatic-efficient, an argument needs to have the form of a road, including road signs. Force and energy need to be channelled into activist trajectories time and again, need to be labelled with a name and an address. Akerman slipped by and through all of that.

On the Films of Chantal Akerman

Daniël Robberechts, 1982
Introduction by Bjorn Gabriels

I come to perceive the screen as a wall (which it is) in front of which I myself have to assume an attitude and a position. I come to find myself on my own and in my own time. I have to determine my own shot, my way of watching and my use of time. If need be I can exercise patience and wait for the next sequence (as one ‘waits for a bus’). But such an attitude renounces enjoyment. I can spend this time much better by watching instead of seeing – and I can watch in such a way that I forget that I’m waiting for something (e.g. for a bus).

Claire Atherton, 2015

A text written and read by Claire Atherton during the homage to Chantal Akerman at the Cinémathèque Française on 16 November 2015, before the premiere screening of No Home Movie (2015). Atherton: “I want to speak to you about Chantal. To tell you everything she gave me, everything she taught me, everything we shared. To tell you how she was: luminous, intelligent, surprising, and funny too …”

Claire Atherton, 2018

Too often people think that when editing you have to start by working on the narrative and finding the film’s structure, and only then move on to its rhythm by refining the length of the shots and sequences. I find that impossible. That would be like separating content from form, thought from the perceptible. Rhythm is the heart of the film, its breath. It’s also the association of colors, shapes, and lines. 

About D’Est by Chantal Akerman

Dirk Lauwaert, 1995

D’Est – a film, a video installation. Between cinema and museum, between projection in time and distribution in space, between celluloid and electronic image. But also between two cultures, that of film and that of visual arts – between two ways of asking the question of the image: in film the question of the right image, in the museum the question of the impossible depiction.

On Chantal Akerman’s Entrance Exam to INSAS

Gerard-Jan Claes, 2024

Is it already clear from these short films what type of filmmaker Chantal Akerman would become? Perhaps not. The four films are small exercises, they “tell” us nothing, they’re not really about anything. What the films mainly reveal is a determinate pleasure in filmmaking, in the art of looking, and in the making and organising of images.

Synopsis, Characters

Chantal Akerman, 1985

The following pieces of text originate from the Chantal Akerman Foundation archives and are part of Akerman’s working material for Golden Eighties. Akerman: “A musical whose characters speak quickly, move quickly and without pause, motivated by desire, regret, passion and greed, who pass each other without seeing, see each other without reaching, or lose each other (we never lose them) only to find each other in the end.”

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Tillo Huygelen, 2024

Few films have had more written, thought and said about them than Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), made by Chantal Akerman when she was only twenty-four years old. Jeanne Dielman is a must-see film. A “masterpiece,” an absolute milestone in film history. I myself have never seen Jeanne Dielman. Writing out the words almost feels like an admission, a confession. A screening was scheduled for Sunday March 24 at CINEMATEK as part of the big Akerman retrospective. Yet I hesitated until the last moment to actually go see the film.

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