Sunday, October 11, 2015

The audience was composed mainly of young people, of the age of college students or recent graduates, and, after the screening, they were eager to engage Akerman in discussion about the film. A young woman sitting behind me raised her hand; Akerman called on her, and the viewer asked a fairly complex question filled with academic language. Akerman responded sharply, “Is that how you talk to your friends?” The woman stayed silent; Akerman persisted, asking whether the question represented the way that the young woman talks in real life and wondering why that’s the way she chose to talk to Akerman.
Thinking about Akerman over the years I paid too much attention to idiots like the one above. The only film by Akerman I'd seen, years ago was Je, Tu, Il, Elle, which I didn't like much. It was too much about ideas rather than experience. I don't like conceptualism and I hated Hollis Frampton. Michael Snow was something else. He had an eye; he placed the camera and framed a view that was both well designed (it did its job) and idiosyncratic. His films described the personal rather than talking about it (La Région Centrale is high concept romantic landscape).  But last week I watched a few interviews with Akerman, and they were all painful to watch. My sympathy was immediate and agreement with with her almost absolute.

And somehow it had slipped my mind that I'd spent four months sitting in on a small class of about 10 people with Babette Mangolte. Mangolte has a brilliant eye, and was the best artist as teacher I've ever had.
Chantal was very clear about the character and the character had nothing to do with who Delphine Seyrig was, who plays Jeanne Dielman. Really the opposite of  Bresson who cast somebody who looked the part in order to shape that person as if they were clay so he could do with them what he wished. In a film you need to have the stylization of a certain distance, Chantal knew that. Film is not realism. It's not neorealism. Delphine was perfect for the role: first she was a great actress and she had the intelligence of knowing how you communicated the drama, the unfolding and break down of a woman. It's not melodrama, it's a woman who is unsettled and falling apart.

...Really, without her, the film does not exist. You see, she's key to the imagination of the film and why the stylisation of the character works. Delphine was an actress able to make an interpretation and not be the real thing. The key to the film Jeanne Dielman, is making Jeanne Dielman a character embodying a certain archetype, which at the time had not been expressed in film.
The film would have fallen apart without the performance, and Mangolte's eye.

Saute ma ville ends in suicide. No Home Movie ends in despair. But the first is about the idea and her last makes you feel it, even if five minutes earlier you wanted to yell at the screen in frustration at the same onscreen character, Akerman, whose sadness breaks your heart as the screen goes black.

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