Chantal Akerman: On n’est pas encore prete a vous oublié

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Chantal Akerman. Courtesy  Marian Goodman Gallery.

“Most of the time when people like a film, they say, ‘I didn’t even feel the time pass.’ I want the film-goer to feel the time pass.” — Chantal Akermam

“Comparable in force and originality to Godard or Fassbinder, Chantal Akerman is arguably the most important European director of her generation.”  — J. Hoberman

“Ce que le public te reproche, cultive-le, c’est toi.” – Jean Cocteau, cited in “Cocteau par lui-meme,” edited by André Fraigneau. Seuil, 1957.

By Paul Ben-Itzak 
Text copyright 2015, 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Chantal Akerman committed suicide in Belleville, Paris, a year ago today. The Cinematheque Francaise, whose programming appears increasingly box-office driven under new management, has yet to announce a retrospective. The same goes for the Centre Pompidou, France’s national museum for modern art, although you can find several of Akerman’s documentaries in the museum’s video library. This story was first published on the Arts Voyager on November 6, 2015, a week before the terrorist murders of 130 civilians on the terraces and in the music halls and sports stadiums in and around Paris. A week after the massacres, I encountered a documentary maker  who suggested that perhaps, in deciding to take her life, Akerman – the daughter of a Holocaust survivor – had a premonition of things to come and didn’t want to be around to witness them. PS: “Jeanne Dielman…” will be projected Sunday, October 9 at 7h15 p.m. at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, presented by Wayne Wang.)

PARIS — Exiting an artist’s atelier off the rue de Couronnes while touring the Open Studios of Belleville last Spring, I almost came face to face with three teenaged marines wielding AK47s, guarding a low building on the fringes of the hilly Parc Belleville. When I quipped later to a French pal that it was nice to see the government finally doing something to protect artists and told her the location, my friend observed, “That’s around where Chantal Akerman lives.” While it’s not inconceivable that a renowned Jewish film-maker might be considered to need protection as much as Jewish schools (usually unmarked here, as if the spectre of the Deportation still makes French Jews discrete), in the end it might be tempting to conclude that for the Brussels-born film director and installation artist, who killed herself here in Belleville (from where I write you) October 5 at the age of 65, the biggest enemy was herself. But this cop-out explanation would be absolving too conveniently a pop culture-centered media (yes, even here in France) which supports less and less artists who march to their own drummer and who are more interested in teaching us something – in Akerman’s case, elevating our awareness and heightening our perception of time —  than diverting our attention.

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