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March 13, 2006

Two recent films by Chantal Ackerman


La Captive
Chantal Ackerman - 2000
Kimstim Region 1 DVD


Tomorrow We Move/Demain On Demenage
Chantal Ackerman - 2004
Kimstim Region 1 DVD

Tomorrow We Move begins and ends with the image of a piano hoisted mid-air, being moved to and from a Parisian apartment. Even though I wasn't there to witness any part of the process, I thought of my mother, who had her baby grand piano transported from Denver to Jerusalem, and from a fair sized house to a third floor walk-up loft. I also was reminded of my own move from Denver to Miami Beach, with the film's mother and daughter moving into an apartment that is immediately too small for the two of them and their belongings.

Chantal Ackerman is a filmmaker I have only known about through her reputation. I had only previously seen Je, tu, il, elle on tape, and A Couch in New York on cable. While her two most recent narrative films are available on DVD, Ackerman's most acclaimed film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is not currently available in any format. These two recent films illustrate Ackerman's movement towards films that are more accessible for mainstream audiences, as well as less visually formal. Both films star Silvie Testud and Aurore Clement.

Tomorrow We Move mostly centers on Charlotte (Testud), a writer who finds that living with her mother (Clement) gets in the way of her writing and sleeping. When Charlotte decides their new home is clearly inadequate, the apartment is placed on sale. Part of the film can be described as a very gentle kind of screwball comedy with potential buyers entering and exiting the apartment, spending more time discussing real life than real estate. The comings and goings make one think of a Marx Brothers movie as reimagined by Eric Rohmer. There is also a nod to Proust with the discussion of memories evoked by the eating of chicken spiced with Thyme (I guess there's a lingual pun there). Testud sometimes mugs her way through the film, eavesdropping on conversations to be converted to her unintentionally comic erotic novel.

Testud's performance, and the newer film, are both in contrast to La Captive. The film is adapted from Proust's La Prisoniere. Unlike the lush Time Regained by Raoul Ruiz, Ackerman's film is stark in comparison. When we first see the obsessive Simon (Stanislas Merhar) following Ariane (Testud) in his car and on foot, the assumption is that he is stalking her. Gradually it is revealed that the two are living together and that Simon's tracking of Ariane, and her accounting for all unseen actions, are part of their relationship. Although Ariane appears to have the submissive role in the relationship, the film reveals that the pair excercise control over each other in varying degrees. Simon's Proustian sensitivity is indicated by his allergies to pollen. By being formally dressed throughout the film, Simon reminds everyone of his class. Simon and Ariane have a relationship that simultaneously involves physical intimacy and barriers, be it a glass wall or clothing. In the DVD and in other interviews, Ackerman cites the influence of Hitchcock. While perhaps not intended, the opening scene of Simon watching home movies of Ariane echoes the home movies of Powell's Peeping Tom. Although Ackerman, in her DVD interview mentions that Simon is also a captive or prisoner, even though the book and film titles in French refer specifically to a female character. What is understood is that with his suits and overcoat, Simon appears tightly wrapped up, bound by desires that he doesn't fully understand, and unravelled by the randomness of life.

Posted by peter at March 13, 2006 11:51 PM