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Chantal Akerman, 1977

Well, here goes my first experience with Chantal Akerman, a director I've been meaning to check for years, and I didn't know what I'd find here to be honest. It turns out to be an avant-garde documentary set in New York which consists of long takes of the city, while a voiceover narration reads letters Chantal's parents sent to her.

Something so austere, yet at the same time so meaningful as the observation of the routine of a city intertwined with the nostalgia for family and homesickness is the driving force of a deeply introspective work that, while keeping a simple structure, manages to provide a reflection on Chantal's current life, her environment and the things she misses. In the images of this film there is a sense of observational curiosity that at points leads to fascination, but also the feeling of being still tied to her roots, and the slight awkwardness of being in a place she doesn't fully belong to.

The problem, however, is that more often than not in my case, this is me projecting what I want to see in the film. These themes are certainly prevalent, but for some reason I don't get fully invested on the movie's style, which leads way too often to a complete detachment from its emotional discourse. It is still beautiful, and when it works and evokes it's no short of amazing, but maybe due to not being used to Chantal's unique and sort of demanding narrative approach I couldn't make the best of this experience.

To a point, as well, I would blame it on the movie. Particularly due to one specific scene, one I tried to not even like but see the point of, and failed. It involves a tracking shot in a bus; Chantal simply puts the camera in the window and films while the bus moves through the city. It is very long, lasting around 8-10 minutes. Then the scene is cut abruptly. The problem I had with this was not with the premise of simple observation, that would be fine, but actually the uncomfortable feeling that at this point of the movie I cared more for what the images represented than Chantal did. The way she shoots this and how she ends the scene transmits a feeling of arbitrariness to me that I interpret as an emotional detachment. And that, in a movie that is conceived as a personal journey, is a strong issue. If I don't perceive personality or intent in the images, I can't get properly attached to them.

As said, maybe it's me not being used to the director's language, maybe just an arbitrary reaction from me that doesn't have much ground, but it certainly affects my enjoyment and involvement on the main idea of the movie, and in retrospect, kind of makes the whole experience less effective. Still, there are merits here that I can't and won't deny. My own limitations set aside, there is something inherently beautiful and charming about this film that, when it becomes explicit, allows for an enthralling experience. Sadly not as continuous as I would have liked it to be, but worth the ride nonetheless.