This blog is part of the courses on film, art, literature, and media given by Dr. Hudson Moura, Toronto, Canada.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
No Home Movie: Mundane Memories
Critical Report by Caitlin Candella
On March 3rd, 2017 the Centre for Memory and Testimony Studies held a screening of No Home Movie by Chantal Akerman at theIMA 307 School of Image Arts as a part of the Memory Screening Film Series hosted by Professor Hudson Moura. Following the screening, Marta Marín-Dòmine, a Catalan writer and scholar who specializes in Memory Studies and director of the Centre, lead a debate regarding the film. Attendees were encouraged to participate in a lively discussion and explore various cinematic memory-scapes, which reveal modes of recollection. Akerman, who passed away at age 65, was involved in numerous projects including fiction, documentary and essay films, as well as video and installation art. She is remembered as a “cinematic radical, a formal innovator and a pioneer of modern feminist cinema” (Romney). No Home Movie is Chantal Akerman's final film that follows the last days of her mother Natalia, a Holocaust survivor. Akerman’s film is a deconstruction of the home-movie tradition. It focuses on memories and the sentimental aspects of mundane moments. This report will outline how Akerman’s No HomeMovie traces and reveals memories and how her personal story influences memory and its path.
No Home Movie is a documentary still-life study that pays homage to Chantal Akerman’s mother. With the use of a consumer-grade digital camera, Akerman captures raw footage that enhances the feeling of a home-movie, presenting the film in a very intimate way. Akerman observes the quiet routine of her mother, with very simple and unedited shots. The film takes place in very ordinary locations, including Natalia’s home, the apartment building’s back garden, a local park, and a desert (Bradshaw, 2016). There are numerous static shots of Natalia moving from room to room and her having mother-daughter conversations with Akerman, in person or on Skype. This form of aesthetic emphasizes the importance of subliminal connotations that film produces in people’s minds. For the average viewer, these shots may appear insignificant. However, they allow viewers to interpret the images for themselves. For example, when Akerman cuts to a succession of traveling shots of a desert there is no voice-over commentary nor any traditional aspects of a documentary such as time, date and location markers (Dargis, 2016). When watching the film, the stillness and aspect of mystery opens the dialogue up to various interpretations. To me, the stillness reflected Akerman’s loss of connection to Brussels. The quiet, lonely atmosphere depicts the sense of loss of her home and loss of her mother. The title of the film also contributes to this idea, as it itself is ambiguous. It is not a conventional home-movie, even though it incorporates elements of one. It is a movie about a saddened estrangement from home that Akerman experiences having lost her mother.
When the screening came to an end, Professor Hudson Moura opened the film up for discussion. Those who attended were given the opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions about the different themes and elements presented in the film. It appeared that there were mixed reviews, with a few people explaining that it was a very taxing experience. I too felt the same way. This film required a significant amount of patience to breakdown and understand the deeper meaning behind Akerman’s imagery and aesthetic, notions that I was not able to grasp very easily. However, Marta Marín-Dòmine clarified important concepts that may have been overlooked in the film. For example, the calm control and the deep core of pain that is presented so subtly in the film, as shown through Akerman’s relationship with her mother. One individual also addressed the almost obsession that Akerman had with her mother. Numerous times throughout the course of the film, Chantal Akerman struggles to part ways with her mother. For example, when she must travel or say goodbye over skype. Other attendees of the screening discussed themes of exile, memory, identity, and even feminism.
No Home Movie is unique in the sense that it incorporates long takes and silences to emphasize the everyday moments that most movies tend to ignore. It is not the typical blockbuster film that is packed with action, but rather an intimate glimpse into the relationship between a daughter and her mother. For two hours, viewers follow Natalia Akerman and Chantal Akerman as they eat, chat and share memories. This film demonstrates the value of time, for without time, memory does not exist (Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia). Akerman preserves her mother’s memory through an unconventional home-movie, allowing the memory of Natalia Akerman to live on.