In Akerman’s ‘Là-bas,’ the Great Filmmaker Finds Life and Sanctuary in Tel Aviv


Throughout her nearly fifty-year career, Chantal Akerman returned again and again to rooms, spaces that served as both sanctuary and prison. The sense of immurement is acutely felt in her doleful 2006 essay film, Là-bas (Down There), which is finally receiving a theatrical run in New York at Anthology as part of the month-long, multi-venue commemoration of the matchless director.

Set almost entirely in a Tel Aviv flat that the filmmaker borrowed from a friend for a few weeks, Là-bas immediately recalls Rear Window (Akerman adored Hitchcock): For large swaths of time, we look out on the apartment-dwellers in the building across the street, who include a gray-haired couple fond of sipping Nescafé on their balcony.

Akerman’s meticulous, fixed-camera compositions — her signature — assume an even greater geometrical precision here, for the outside view is obscured by the matchstick roll-up blinds in her temporary lodging. The evenly spaced horizontal lines of the thin slats impose an austere visual order, in contrast to the anguish and chaotic feelings expressed, no matter how affectlessly, in Akerman’s first-person voiceover narration: “I have fallen apart.”

Though it shares themes with earlier Akerman titles, notably Je Tu Il Elle (1975), Là-bas is most closely connected with No Home Movie, her final work (which also screens at Anthology April 15-21, following its run at BAM): “What if we had gone to Israel instead of Belgium?” Akerman, a Brussels-born daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors, wonders in Là-bas. That hypothetical anticipates some of the direct queries the filmmaker addresses to her beloved mother in No Home Movie — questions often met with evasions, blanks in an unassimilable past that Akerman spent her life trying to make sense of.

Là-bas (Down There)
Directed by Chantal Akerman
Icarus Films
Anthology Film Archives, April 15-21