Theme Tuesday - News from Home & The Meetings of Anna
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.
In both News from Home and The Meetings of Anna, Akerman treads very familiar territory, especially in News from Home, which is almost a companion piece to Hotel Monterey. This does not mean that she is derivative or lacking creativity. In fact, both of these films help refine her aesthetic even more and some of the themes that will be present in all of her work are crystallized further.
In News from Home, Akerman films New York City in a way that I have never seen an American film it before. When most Americans film New York City, it tends to either focus on the obvious landmarks (Statue of Liberty, Times Square, etc.), or they make the people part of the character of the city. These are not necessarily ill-advised ways to film the city. In fact, one of the funniest scenes in Mistress America plays on the tourist-y nature of New York when Greta Gerwig’s character chooses to meet Lola Kirke’s in Times Square. What Akerman chooses to do instead is that she makes different areas of New York City moving paintings. A deeper analysis of this film would essentially be a list of interesting shots and compositions that force viewers to see New York City in her way, a way that most Americans would not be used to.
In The Meetings of Anna, the closest that I have seen to a conventional dramatic work from Akerman so far, Anna is a Belgian film director (how quaint) who is on a publicity tour for her newest film. She has sexual liaisons with both men and women. Much of the film focuses on the ennui that seems to be an innate characteristic of Anna. I was never entirely sure what she got from her sexual encounters. Perhaps they are as much a search for meaning as her long, meandering conversations with various people in this film are. Akerman’s slow, deliberate aesthetic is particularly effective at demonstrating what Anna’s inner life (or lack thereof) is really like.
I will admit that I found both works challenging to sit through, since Akerman insists on making her films deliberate yet immersive. I think you have to watch her films in a sort of an appreciative daze - that you don’t have to be paying close attention every moment of the film, but it’s actually OK to let your mind wander and appreciate the composition or the uniqueness of the shots she chooses. I feel that trying to impose narratives or traditional interpretations on Akerman’s films are pointless because she is so much more about expressing her aesthetic and making her viewer identify with her non-judgmental, curious yet carefully distanced gaze.