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The girl in the room is gone. Three shorts by Chantal Akerman.

A couple of weeks ago I saw three shorts by Chantal Akerman: Saute ma ville (1968), La Chambre (1972) and Le 15–8 (1973). This was my first meeting with her work.

The black and white Saute ma ville, Akerman’s first film, showed a young woman who was moving back and forth in her kitchen in an uncoordinated manner, creating a complete mess. I was laughing with tears…until I stopped laughing. The sketch sharply transformed into an expression of fragility, pain and lack of internal orientation, ending with her attempted suicide.

Watch the film here.

Source: CINEMATRICES

Source: CINEMATRICES

La Chambre, shot in colour, showed another young woman,sitting in her bed. The camera was slowly circling the room, catching every detail, then going back, again and again. The woman was just staring in the empty space. It felt as if the camera was there to help us see through her eyes, tune into her emotional state and understand it. Finally, she took a red apple and started slowly eating it. A contemporary Eva seducing herself to life.

Watch the film here.

Source: Domus

Source: Domus

Akerman cast herself in both Saute ma ville and La Chambre.

In Le 15-8, again back and white, a third young women was alone in her room, talking and talking in a monotonous way about her experience of a foreigner in Paris. The main theme here were also the feelings of loneliness, of seeing the world through an invisible glass and not being able to find your place in it. Towards the end her words revealed what we could already guess – that she was suffering from depression.

Watch the film here.

Source: IMDb

Source: IMDb

I was with a small expat group of art film lovers. Most of them found the films too slow and tedious. I loved them.

Chantal Akerman has brilliantly managed to convey something so difficult to grasp if one has never been there it: the condition of depression. She has not only portrayed its manifestations but also the underneath stream of desperation, loss, isolation, dis-connection, fruitless effort, bottom-less darkness. There was no speaking in the first film, no sound at all in the second and in the third the character was talking to herself. The absence of the other, the impossibility, the void.

The reaction of my companions was not surprising. The shorts were indeed hard to go through and swallow.
As depression is.

I was trying to find a moment to write about them. Meanwhile Akerman has left. Not knowing yet the rest of her work, for me these films became an early presage of her today’s decision.

The girl in the room is gone. The void behind her is ever deeper.

RIP Chantal Akerman!

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