The Chevalier de la Barre: Akerman and acolytes en prime in Paris; Amélie has two mommies, and they’re concerned (corrected and updated, 11-25, 16h00)

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

To the memory of Jill Johnston, my Chantal Akerman. And for Ingrid, her widow, in profound appreciation. And for Chris, roommate sublime. And for Ben, collaborator, friend, and twin. And for Mark Dendy, idol and vector. And for P., friend and counselor. And for Amandine and spouse, voisines parisiennes des jours du 49 rue de Paradis.

I wasn’t going to take this brazenly political approach to writing about the exhibition Chantal Akerman: “Maniac Shadows,” which opened last Saturday at the Ferme du Buisson outside Paris, where it continues through February 19, because much as viewing art in a political and social context has almost existential importance to me as a journalist and citizen — and is, I feel, an honorable way to promote art’s societal relevance and thus potentially garner it a larger audience — I’m hyper-aware that it’s also unfair to impose my worldview, or angle and prism for viewing the world, on the subject I’m writing about. What should prime is capturing, as best I can, his or her expression as he or she intended it. It also didn’t seem fair to enlist Akerman, ipso facto and post-mortem, in a cause some might perceive as narrowly and exclusively centered on the rights of gay people, given that (as far as I can observe — and I might be wrong, because I certainly haven’t seen everything) her work doesn’t seem to focus particularly on the facet of her identity related to her sexual orientation; like all complete artists worth the designation, she’s neither defined nor limited by her own particular identities. (Even though obviously they inform her work, particularly Akerman’s Jewish background, which includes being the child of a Holocaust survivor, a frequent source of inspiration. But so is having lived in Brussels, Paris, and New York….And Godard’s “Pierrot le fou.”) And as a foreigner in these brittle times, I’m not particularly comfortable commenting on local politics, a subject which might justly be seen as none of my onions and a pursuit which thus might seem ungracious.

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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.

To access the full version of the article, including more images, subscribers please e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Not a subscriber? 1-year subscriptions are just $39.99, or $19.99 for students and unemployed or under-employed artists. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address for information on how to pay by check or in Euros or British pounds.