News from Home

News from Home ★★★★½

In News from Home Chantal Akerman achieves something rather impossible—the conveyance of powerful, lucid emotion without a trace of narrative or character, but instead through the use of structural forms, rhythm and spaces in a way that elicits the deeply personal from the impersonal.

Akerman's early New York work had all been leading up to this, the feelings of alienation expanded from the domestic and interior to the external, very public byways of a living, breathing city but captured not in a way that suggests jubilance or satisfaction. With but a few exceptions she photographs the quieter side streets, the nondescript commuter trains and insipid subway tunnels, presenting the city as though it's stuck in a perpetual Edward Hopper-esque twilight, an urban landscape of detachment and isolation where individuals appear geometrically trapped in their own little microcosms—the barflies, store owners and night-shift workers all filmed behind an inorganic milieu of glass, steel and concrete.

All of this striking imagery is presented alongside Akerman reading aloud the letters she has received from her mother back in Belgium as she herself pursues a film career in America. From this correspondence we are painted a picture of a nagging, passive aggressive but obviously very loving and protective woman. Learning about Akerman's family history puts things into perspective, we can extrapolate the kind of strained but incredibly close relationship they may have had and with this we're able to contextualise what we see on screen—I can't think of a more powerful cinematic rendition of how it feels to be a young person away from family, homesick and out of your comfort zone but at the same time free and independent.

The film recreates the experience of visiting a foreign place and by the time that mesmerising closing long take had ended I felt as though I'd been right there with her, aimlessly observing the gritty streets of 1970s New York and feeling just a little bit heartbroken.

Criterion Channel. Opted for the English soundtrack.

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