Carlo Chatrian

A personal blog of Festival del film Locarno's Artistic Director

In retrospect

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Chantal Akerman in Locarno. Photo by Sandro Baebler, agency: modds

Chantal Akerman in Locarno.
Photo by Sandro Baebler, agency: modds.fr

I think back to the faces of all those people attending the recent edition of the festival. Most of them are smiling. As it should be. Festivals are happy, celebratory occasions. But today those smiles seem shadowy. Scarily, more like grimaces.

Today, I can’t help but overlay them with Chantal’s slight yet so very genuine smile just after the screening of her last film, No Home Movie. She asked: “It went well didn’t it?” And I replied that it had. And it was true, the massive FEVI auditorium had responded well to her film, which is so powerfully hard-hitting that at times it can be difficult to get into.

Today, now that she is no longer with us, I think back to that moment of joy, of sharing, when she added, “I’m happy to be here”. I tell myself I should have overcome my shyness and embraced her. Shame on me!
But what remains with me is her film.

What remains with me is that image of the little tree, withstanding the buffeting wind, which fills me with a sudden tenderness. What remains with me is that gentle voice of hers, when she is talking to her mother via the computer screen. What remains with me is that lightning bolt remark, (“Today I want to talk about how these days there are no distances left in the world”). What remains with me is her body of work, which speaks so resonantly, and more than any other, about the world and about images at the end of the age of cinema. No Home Movie, like all her preceding films, opens doors and imagines new ways of dramatizing the eternal question of what a presence before the camera means. Of how to give meaning to that presence, which is a way of giving meaning to existence.

I look back through notes I made about her films. From the overwhelming discovery of Jeanne Dielman (1975), a film that offers very little (in terms of powerful images and its story) yet which is so singularly powerful: its impact growing so quickly after seeing it. That’s how it is with most of her films: it is only when they are over that they start working on us.

I find a note of something she said: “The way I film is closer to the sacred than to idolatry. I ought to be able to explain myself better in this respect, but I don’t think I ever will be.”

What strikes me in Chantal’s work is precisely that notion of mystery, the mystery of being. What we are shown might have something of the sacred about it because it is anchored in existence, because it goes beyond what we see to reach a zone that is so very precious to us precisely because it is invisible, whereas so much of what we see today is, like the biblical golden calf, resplendent but empty.

That is why the loss of Chantal is already such a great loss to us all.

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