News from Home

News from Home ★★★★½

I am definitely the guy from Manhattan who "idolised New York all out of proportion", and I haven't even been there. Now, after seeing News from Home, I'm not sure I want to go anymore. Chantal Akerman has obliterated my NY fantasy maybe for the rest of time, and all she needed to do the job was a camera and a voiceover. Her images take no delight in regarding the city whatsoever - they're so cold and unsparing, always simply looking and never getting involved with the people or their culture. As captured here, New York may as well be on another planet for all it resembles the New York of practically every other New York film I've seen. It's neither the upscale metropolis of Woody Allen nor the seedy underbelly of Martin Scorsese, but something far more desolate than both - a side to the city that only a foreigner could perceive.

Once you factor in Akerman's French-language narration, reading the letters written to her by her mother when she lived in New York in the early '70s, the dissonance becomes almost too much to bear. But the title is a dead giveaway, really: "home" is the director's native Brussels; it is not New York, nor was it ever. The film is about what it feels like to be adrift in a place you feel no affinity for, separated from the people you love despite their (and your) best efforts to bridge the gulf between you. If anyone ever asked me what homesickness meant, I'd show them this film.

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