Film

Read J. Hoberman’s 1983 Cover Story on Chantal Akerman’s ‘Jeanne Dielman’

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On October 5, the Belgian-born director Chantal Akerman died at the age of 65 in Paris. Several outlets, including the French newspaper Le Monde, have reported the death as a suicide, although the New York Times wrote that Akerman’s sister, Sylviane Akerman, said the cause of death was “not immediately known.” Though based in Paris, Akerman was a regular presence in New York, whether through her classes at the City College of New York or her many visits to local festivals and repertory venues, such as in October of 2013, when she introduced her 1977 movie, News from Home, at the Museum of Modern Art. On Wednesday and Thursday, Akerman’s final work, No Home Movie — a portrait of Akerman’s mother during the last years of her life — will screen at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of the 53rd New York Film Festival.

Akerman’s most famous and influential movie, Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles — an exacting, enthralling three-hour epic about the stifling daily routines of a middle-aged widow and prostitute (played by Delphine Seyrig) — now justly enjoys home-video availability through the Criterion Collection, but it took an exhaustingly long time for the movie to be made originally accessible to U.S. audiences. Jeanne Dielman premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May of 1975, but it wasn’t until eight years later, in March of 1983, that the movie was finally shown theatrically in New York. (It booked a two-week run at Film Forum.)

The Village Voice covered Jeanne Dielman’s domestic arrival with appropriate aggression: an image of Akerman graced the cover of the March 29, 1983, issue, alongside a pair of articles praising her movies. The first, by B. Ruby Rich, serves as a primer on the enthusiasm with which Akerman’s work was greeted by feminist critics at the time. “She does what feminist cultural theory has called for: she invents a new language capable of transmitting truths previously unspeakable,” Rich wrote. The second article, by J. Hoberman, focuses more exclusively on Jeanne Dielman, with Hoberman declaring the movie “truly legendary.” Of Akerman’s daring formal approach, Hoberman wrote: “This is a film that goes beyond Ozu in eliminating camera movement, background music, fades, or optical effects…Jeanne Dielman is as monumental a formal film as Michael Snow’s La Région Central [sic].”

Both articles have been reproduced in PDFs below. To keep tabs on the other Akerman obits circling the web, consult this link.

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