Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chantal Akerman
Written by: Chantal Akerman
Directed by: Chantal Akerman
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 64
Date: 02/19/1997

Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman (1997)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Cinema Selfie

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I first heard about this film when one of my favorite film critics, J. Hoberman, chose it as one of 1997's ten best films. And now I finally have been able to see it. Chantal Akerman, who died in 2015, made this impressive film for a TV show about "filmmakers of our time." As she explains in the opening part of Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman, she chose a few names of directors, which had already been done. So she half-jokingly named herself, and the producers said "yes."

Following the format of the show, but still doing her own thing, Akerman begins with an "interview," i.e. she speaks to the camera a little about what she wants to do for this film, and a little about her career. Then she proceeds with her original idea, a selection of clips of her films up to 1997, using them as if they were a large volume of daily "rushes." The clips are beautifully chosen, not in any kind of chronological or alphabetical order, with black-and-white film rubbing up against bleary color video.

The combination manages to convey an emotional idea of Akerman's work, revealing an intelligence and a daring as well as a compassion for women. Clips of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) and From the East (1993) are here, of course, but I was drawn to bits of more obscure films, like the black-and-white short film J'ai faim, j'ai froid (1984) and the TV film Portrait d'une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles (1993).

If there is a quibble about Icarus Films' new DVD, it's that the clips of Jeanne Dielman look awful compared to the recent Criterion Blu-ray release, but this is easy to forgive, when the subject matter is so compelling. The DVD comes with trailers for three other Akerman-related works, Almayer's Folly (2011), No Home Movie (2015), and a documentary on her work.

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