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Chantal Akerman

Chantal Akerman

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Also Known As: Chantal Ackerman,Chantal Anne Akerman Died:
Born: June 6, 1950 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Brussels, BE Profession: Director ... director actor screenwriter producer photo enlarger office worker cashier
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BIOGRAPHY

Considered one of the most significant independent filmmakers of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Chantal Akerman possesses a pronounced visual and narrative style, influenced by structuralism and minimalism, which offers astute insights into women's role in modern culture.

Akerman's interest in film was sparked at the age of 15 by a viewing of Jean-Luc Godard's "Pierrot le Fou", prompting her to enroll in the Belgian film school, INSAS. After about two years' study she quit school, eager to begin making films rather than sitting in a classroom. Akerman saved money from clerical and waitressing jobs to make several short films which received minimal recognition.

It was not until she moved to New York in 1972 that Akerman began to develop her distinctive visual style and to deal with those themes which have dominated her work thus far. In America she became acquainted with the films of the avant-garde, specifically those of Michael Snow, which influenced her perception of the relationship between film, space and time. Her first two features, "Hotel Monterey" (1972) and "Je Tu Il Elle" (1974), with their studiously static camerawork and minimal dialogue, were early indications of the visual style which came to full flowering in "Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" (1975). This 200 minute, minimally plotted film scrutinized three days in the life of a woman (Delphine Seyrig) who adheres to a regimented schedule of cleaning, cooking and caring for her teenage son. Every day she also takes in one male caller to make ends meet. On the third day her schedule is interrupted, and she later experiences an orgasm with her male caller. Her response to these unfathomable alterations in her routine is to thrust a pair of scissors into the man's throat.

Reception for "Jeanne Dielman" was mixed. It was criticized by many as a boring and meaningless minimalist exercise; Akerman's defenders, however, were awed by her visual aesthetic and use of real time to emphasize the routine of her protagonist's world. Thanks to the film's exposure, Akerman was able to secure financial backing from the Gaumont company and from German TV for the striking "Les Rendezvous d'Anna" (1978). Her first semi-commercial effort, it featured popular French actors Aurore Clement and Jean-Pierre Cassel in a story of a female director trekking across Europe to promote her latest film. Again, static camerawork and minimal dialogue created a sense of alienation which mirrored the emptiness and insincerity of the protagonist's encounters.

After failing to raise $25 million for an adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's 1969 novel "The Manor", Akerman returned to independent production with "All Night Long" (1982), an insightful drama contrasting romantic illusions with harsh realities. Akerman's most accessible film to date is "Golden Eighties" (1986), a satire of musicals set completely within the confines of a Brussels shopping mall. Here too her concern is with idealized notions of romance; unlike her earlier works, however, the central story is complemented by several subplots and the film's pacing is a little more sprightly. Akerman's signature camera does remain static, providing a unique perspective on the structured world of the shopping mall.

In 1988 Akerman returned to New York to film "American Stories/Food, Family and Philosophy", an exploration of her Jewish heritage through a series of stories told by immigrants. To support herself, Akerman has held a number of teaching posts; she has stated a desire to make more commercially viable films because of the financial constraints now on independent production.

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