CHANTAL AKERMAN'S FILMS
The Politics of the Singular
I haven't triod to find
(l
compromise between myself and others. I have thought that
the more particular I am the more I address the general.-Chantal Akerman,
1982
Chantal Akerman's films seem to alternate between containment, order,
and symmetry, on the one hand, and on the other a dry intensity that regis-
ters as the reverse of restraint: lack of control, obsession, explosion. Aker-
man's very first film, the short Saute ma ville (Blow up my town,
1968),
features the director herself, then eighteen, performing a series of actions
that alternate between clearly focused projects (cleaning, cooking, eating,
committing suicide) and excess-an uncontrolled mess. Saute ma ville is
Jeanne Dielman,
23
Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
(1975)
run amok.
Akerman enters her apartment in Saute ma ville by racing the elevator
up the stairs while parodically humming a classical tune. Coming in
through the back door of a tiny studio apartment that is mostly kitchen,
she begins her domestic routine. Jeanne Dielman gets its structure from
this kind of routine; there, order is the mask for chaos. In Saute ma ville,
though, order and chaos coexist as strobic intermittencies in a jerky kind
of performance. Cleaning her shoes while wearing them, Akerman's char-
acter continues her obsessive polishing until she has brushed her legs
black. Her furious attempt to clean the kitchen leaves clutter in its trail, as
a messy jumble of objects-all of them domestic cleaning tools, precisely
the signifiers of neatness and hygiene-stain the regime that she tries to
impose. In Jeanne Dielman, faulty timing
replac(~s
boredom with anxiety,
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