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Theme Tuesday - Saute ma Ville & La Chambre

Chantal Akerman is one of the most prominent female filmmakers of the 20th century, and a director that has been a glaring blind spot for me. During March, I seek to rectify that blind spot.


Just from these two short films, I can see that Chantal Akerman is a filmmaker that has no interest in conventional cinema. Her first film Saute Ma Ville (Blow Up My Town) was made when she was 18. It is a film full of youth and anarchy. A young girl (Akerman herself) shuts herself in an apartment and does a variety of bizarre activities - make a huge mess, polish her shoes and then proceeds to polish her leg. The film ends with an unexpected display of violence that, once you think about it, really shouldn’t have been unexpected.

Her film La Chambre, filmed four years later, could not be more different in its style. It consists mainly of a camera slowly panning around a room several times with occasional motion from Akerman lying on a bed, eating an apple. It is a slow, hypnotic piece, more artistic statement than cinematic entertainment. Were it not for Akerman’s presence, you would not have guessed it was the same filmmaker as Saute Ma Ville.

One could say that Saute Ma Ville was an homage to Akerman’s favorite filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard .Indeed, it was his Pierrot le Fou that inspired her to make films in the first place. The experimental nature of the film with its incongruous sequence of scenes could easily have been something that Godard could have cooked up. However, I think that while Saute Ma Ville is Akerman finding her footing as a filmmaker and finding a voice, it is still in the same spirit of adventure that she made La Chambre.

Already I can see some patterns such as her portrayal of herself. The predominantly male filmmakers of the French New Wave were still guilty of the male gaze (not that the gaze is always a bad thing in the right context - think of Jules and Jim or My Life to Live, both which comment on the gaze as well as embody it). She is also less burdened by the films of the past. Many of the French New Wave directors got their starts by imitating and reinventing the genres that they loved - American gangster films, noirs, romances, etc. Even within these short films, I can see how people thought a promising, vibrant voice was emerging when these films debuted to the public.

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