Thursday, March 24, 2016

2016 Blind Spot Series: News from Home

Written, directed, and starring Chantal Akerman, News from Home is the story about Akerman’s life in New York City as she reads corresponding letters from her mother about her time in the city in the early 1970s. While it is largely a documentary feature of sorts, the film is a look into the world of New York City from the view of a European who reflects on her time to the city that she had visited years earlier. The result is a fascinating and evocative film from Chantal Akerman.

The film is a simple documentary of sorts about a woman reading letters from her mother during her time in New York City. Shot in 1976, the film plays into lingering image of New York City from shots of the streets, the subways, and many other images in day and night at time where it was in a sense of decay but also filled with that sense of adventure. Yet, it features narration by Chantal Akerman reading the many letters that her mother wrote from the early 70s as it has this sense of longing and reflection where Akerman’s voice display that sense of longing and feeling homesick in the letters she reads. The letters would reveal stories about relatives, family illnesses, break-ups, and other things but also that sense of longing where Akerman’s mother talks about how much she misses her and wonders why Akerman hasn’t written any letters for two weeks to a month.

With the aid of cinematographers Babette Mangolte and Jim Asbell, Akerman creates a look that is quite grainy and realistic with a lot of static shots with few moments of the camera moving around. Most notably a 360-degree panning of a subway galleria under Times Square as it plays into a sense of vibrancy that is New York City in the mid-1970s. Much of the shooting would involve some long takes while there would be moments where the takes would have these unexpected jump-cuts from editor Francine Sandberg who would provide something that felt unpredictable yet adds to that sense of knowing when not to cut. It’s the sound work of Dominique Dalmasso and Larry Haas that adds a lot to the film as it records much of Akerman’s narration in reading the letters mixed in with the sounds of the city itself though there are moments where the sound of the city drowns Akerman’s narration. However, it does add that sense of longing in Akerman’s voice as she reads the letters from her mother against the backdrop of many images in the city.

From the 2010 box set of films by Chantal Akerman made in the 1970s that is released by the Criterion Collection through its Eclipse series. The film is featured in one of three DVD discs as the film, along with La Chambre and Hotel Monterey, is part of the film’s first disc. The disc also features an essay by essayist Michael Koresky entitled A Belgian in New York. The essay doesn’t just discuss that period in Akerman’s life and career but also the time she spent in New York City as this foreigner who had found herself in the city’s avant-garde film scene. Koresky also talked about Akerman’s technique while revealing that Hotel Monterey was shot in a span of fifteen hours. Koresky also talks about the approach in News from Home as it had something that was considered avant-garde but it had something that was really personal as the essays a lot about the trilogy of films from New York and Akerman herself.

News from Home is an enchanting film from Chantal Akerman. It’s a film that takes an idea that is very simple and create something that feels very personal as well as bring insight from a foreigner’s point of view in a city as she reads letters from her own mother. In the end, News from Home is a rapturous film from Chantal Akerman.

Chantal Akerman Films: La Chambre - Hotel Monterey - Je Tu Il Elle - Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles - Les Rendez-vous d’Anna - (American Stories, Food, Family and Philosophy) - (Night and Day (1991 film)) - (A Couch in New York) - (La Captive) - (Tomorrow We Move) - (Almayer’s Folly) - (No Home Movie)

© thevoid99 2016


Dell said...

Never heard of this one. I can't say that I'll rush right out and find it, but it does sound interesting.

thevoid99 said...

I think you can find it on Hulu from the Criterion Collection's page on the film. I was fortunate to get the Eclipse boxset of Akerman's 70s work for Xmas.

Brittani Burnham said...

This sounds like it would be interesting. Thanks for pointing out that it's on Hulu, I always forget to check for things on there.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I'm glad some of her films are available on Hulu though I'm fortunate to have them on DVD from Criterion. I hope more of her will come on DVD/Blu-Ray soon. Akerman is widely regarded as one of the best filmmakers from Europe.