News from Home

News from Home ★★★½

What I hoped to see when watching Chantal Akerman’s News from Home was a documentary with the same kind of emotional resonance that some of Jonas Mekas’ best films gave me. Instead, I got something close to the complete opposite. News from Home evokes a sense of stillness and distance. The images, often presented as still, unmoving shots, are almost primarily focused on buildings; the cold stone and metal of New York. In her voice-over Akerman reads her mother’s letters, instinctively leaving her own responses out of the equation. She creates a distant, lonely feeling through the one-side conversation and the borderline dead look of the city. Even when people do show up in the frame, they don’t add much liveliness to the picture. They stare right into the lens or simply don’t bother to show any action. Or perhaps they did do so and Akerman cut those moments out entirely, longing for an ice-cold performance from both the streets, the sounds and the people inhabiting it. Her evocation of isolation from her family is deeply felt even though it is never conveyed in an expected emotional manner. It serves up the bare essentials and leaves it up to the viewer to fill in the gaps, knowing that anyone who watches this is, in one way or another, all too familiar with the story being told.

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