Histoires d’Amérique: Food, Family and Philosophy

Histoires d’Amérique: Food, Family and Philosophy

The stories of Jewish immigrants in New York City are told with characteristic humor.


“When asked by Godard ten years before Histoires d’Amérique, after describing her dream of adapting Singer’s novel, Akerman replied that, yes, she felt different from others because she was Jewish.

Godard: How are you different?

Akerman: I don’t know, but there is a lot of common ground when I talk to other Jews. We understand each other.

Godard: But do you live according to rituals of traditions. A minute ago, you said that you feel a real shock when you see Jews today who still wear the traditional hats, beards and side curls. Doesn’t this shock also come from the fact that they claim to be fundamentally different from everyone else?

Akerman: But the people who are like that aren’t claiming anything, they are following rituals they cherish and believe in, that are necessary for them. It isn’t a question of claiming something from outside, it has to do with their relationships with each other.

Godard: But what about you? You don’t follow these rituals, do you?

Akerman: No, I have lost them.

Godard: Does it disturb you to have lost them?

Akerman: No. The strange thing is that I lost them without really having lost them completely. A lot still remains in ordinary things, in everyday life, in love.

Godard: And that’s what you are going to try to look for in your film.

Akerman: That’s what I am going to try to look for, yes. What interests me about this novel is that there was a community that followed its rituals, that had doubts about a god, but doubts from within their belief: they didn’t really call their belief in God into question, and so they didn’t really question the rituals either. But from the moment they let go of one tiny thing, everything went, they were left to their passions and everything was permitted.


Akerman created memories to mourn and to make up for the disruption of a continuous and oral tradition passed down from one generation to the next, most importantly from mother to daughter. Almost all her films seem motivated by this need, but Histoires d’Amérique is the closest she has yet come to making her film of rememoration. Akerman explained when the film was released: ‘Instead of knowing my history by having it passed down directly from parents to child, I had to go through literature and read, for instance, Isaac Bashevis Singer. But that wasn’t enough. His memories could never really be mine. So, from one kind of borrowing to another, I am constituted by imaginary memories. [Histoires d’Amérique] is a work of memory but invented memories.’”

Janet Bergstrom1


« Au lieu de connaître mon histoire par une transmission directe de parents à enfant, il m’a fallu passer par la littérature et lire Isaac Bashevis Singer, par exemple. Mais cela ne suffisait pas. Ses souvenirs à lui ne pouvaient pas être tout à fait les miens. Alors d’un emprunt à l'autre, je me suis constitué des souvenirs imaginaires. Et ce film est un travail sur le souvenir, mais des souvenirs inventés. Il est fait de tant d’histoires, histoires restées en travers de la gorge des parents. Et pour rester dans ce qui me reste de tradition, je n’ai pu échapper aux histoires drôles qui se sont fichées là au milieu de tout et tout le temps. Ces histoires drôles parfois consolatrices et qui permettent de survivre à l’histoire par le rire, un rire qui prend source dans la détresse même. »

Chantal Akerman


« Si le film de Lanzmann est fait quarante ans après c’est qu’il a fallu que cela décante des deux côtés. Bettelheim explique cela assez bien, ce qui s’est passé pour les Juifs dans les camps : ils sont devenus des esclaves, ils ont perdu toute dignité, il en est resté quelque chose. Je crois que pour parler vraiment de ça, il ne faut plus parler du point de vue de l’esclave. Je pense que c’est pour ça que ça a pris tout ce temps-là, pour tout le monde. Il y a plein de films juifs qui sortent en ce moment, donc c’est que le temps était enfin venu et pour moi aussi. » 

Chantal Akerman dans un entretien avec Serge Daney, écoutez le ci-dessous.



  • 1Janet Bergstrom, Endless Night: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), 275-267.
UPDATED ON 25.07.2020