As reported by Rachel Donadio and Cara Buckley in The New York Times just minutes ago, “Chantal Akerman, the Belgian filmmaker whose ruminative, meticulous observation of women’s everyday and inner lives, often using long, protracted takes, made her a pioneer in feminist and experimental filmmaking and influenced generations of directors, has died in Paris. She was 65.
Her death was confirmed by her sister, Sylviane Akerman, and by Nicola Mazzanti, the director of the Royal Belgian Film Archive, which had worked closely with Ms. Akerman over the years and restored her films. Mr. Mazzanti said the cause and precise date of her death, which he said he believed had occurred in the past few days, were not yet known.
Born in Brussels to Polish Holocaust survivors, Chantal Akerman was inspired to begin making films after seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 Pierrot le Fou as a teenager. At age 25, she made her groundbreaking 1975 film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which follows a housewife in real time over the course of more than three hours as she prepares food, does chores, and receives clients paying for sex. The minimalist repetition builds up quietly to a traumatic climax.
‘Jeanne Dielman is a film that created, overnight, a new way of making films, a new way of telling stories, a new way of telling time,’ Mr. Mazzanti said. ‘There are filmmakers who are good, filmmakers who are great, filmmakers who are in film history. And then there are a few filmmakers who change film history.’”
The director of more than forty films, Akerman’s work specialized in deep contemplation of her subjects, and resolutely refused to cater to public tastes. Most recently, she was teaching filmmaking at CCNY in Manhattan, and her latest film, No Home Movie, has just been selected for the upcoming New York Film Festival.
A documentary consisting of detailed conversations with her mother, Natalia, an Auschwitz survivor who recently died, the film was inexplicably booed at the recent Locarno Film Festival, and as The Times reports, the initial hostile reception of the film was “devastating [to] Ms. Akerman, who friends said had been in a dark place of late, and who had previously suffered emotional breakdowns.”
That’s all we know now, except that her films will live on, and that her place as someone who changed the language of cinema is absolutely assured. All across the world, tributes are pouring in, but nothing can really capture the brilliance of her work, which must be seen, and experienced, to be truly appreciated.