News from Home

News from Home ★★★★½

It's too easy and reductive to say of Akerman that she, in comparison to her male contemporaries, found the heart beating within structuralism. But as affecting as her work is—and News from Home, soundtracked to Akerman reading her the alternately doting, melancholy and passive-aggressive letters sent to her by her mom, is acutely painful at times—it is more accurate to say that the director best understood the applications of structuralism not merely to cinema formalism but to the patterns of quotidian life. Akerman's domestic films from this period explored the crushingly numbed rhythms of interior life, but her New York movies expanded this scope to shared spaces and public existence. News from Home marks the crest of this extrapolation, with long takes focused on the bustle of public commutes, of people walking en masse but exchanging neither words nor glances (save to stare, confused, at her camera, baffled by this disruption of their usual routine). She also composes Hopper-esque images of late-night drifters, of graveyard shift workers and night owls slumped over in insomniac fatigue.

Set to her mom's loving but hectoring correspondence, Akerman blends the personal with the public to explain her own path to the city and how the city both lures and alienates people like her. The mom's letters, so tender but also so needy, offer an offsetting warmth to the faded cityscapes but nonetheless speak to a kind of suffocating home life that could drive someone to a detached metropolis in the first place. This is such a vast film in its implications, so unlike many silent tone poems that still manage to speak so loudly and clumsily on the supposed evil of modern life. News from Home is much more ambivalent, taking the loneliness and freedom in equal measure in a way that devastates but also enlivens. You feel as if you've lived an experience alongside Akerman by the time she drifts further and further away from the city by the end, retaining a memory as bittersweet as any of your actual recollections.