On how things actually play out

by Charlotte Wynant

“Bresson is […] a great materialist, the priest’s hearing in Diary of a Country Priest, I’ve never encountered such attuned hearing in my life, I would watch it constantly. This is why ‘Catholic filmmaker’, ‘Jewish filmmaker’, ‘woman filmmaker’, ‘gay filmmaker’ – all these qualifiers have to be lifted, it’s not how things actually play out.” (CA Pajama interview with Nicole Brenez 2011 p.71)

Of all the things that drew me to Chantal Akerman, perhaps this quote most adequately brings to light the most decisive factor (I’d name it the call of the siren, were it not that she might disapprove, for reasons I’m setting out to discuss).

To be regarded as an artist, as a person, rather than a ‘woman filmmaker’, a ‘woman’. She pleads to be seen for the artistic choices made, the things we control and not the contingency of our bodies, our heritage, our upbringing.

She makes a movie about a female filmmaker, travelling for work. We never see her work. She encounters people who have long winding conversations with her or rather at her, monologues in which they picture her in their lives as a wife and mother to their child, a daughter-in-law and fiancée, a lover and a nurse. She doesn’t speak. She doesn’t exist, not in front of these people, not for these people who already know what they want to see before actually regarding her – exclusively in stereotypically female roles.

What she deliberately hides in Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (to incite our curiosity, to make us aware of the existence made absent, mute) is what she places front and centre in her documentaries. Akerman’s work drives us to regard people as much as possible in their particularity, and in this sense in their materiality. In all that they show themselves to be, all that they can show, for we are bound to our bodies and our words as we show our selves, and we are unreadable but we needn’t be bound by our prejudice in seeing others. While inevitably near-sighted, we do not have to be blind.

Charlotte Wynant is currently writing a PhD thesis on reductive aesthetics in the cinema of Chantal Akerman and Marguerite Duras at the Research Centre for Visual Poetics (University of Antwerp). The focus of her research lies on aesthetics of negativity in twentieth century cinema, literature and performance and the contributive role of French philosophy in their emergence.

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