Infused with the long shadows of the past and ineluctable reflections of the future, No Home Movie (2015), Chantal Akerman’s final film before her death at the age of 65, is at once an elegy to her dying mother, Natalia, and a profound personal confession, as the filmmaker attempts to confront the possibility of a world without her ‘maman’.
Once again for Akerman her fixation with space takes centre stage; in this film the Belgian apartment of her dying mother which feels like both sacred refuge and shadowy tomb. Filming through curtains, and repeatedly moving from inside to outside, like a moth drawn towards the light but which can’t quite reach it, Akerman constantly achieves a sense of confinement within the apartment. Her mother’s belongings and furniture become, in the typical frontal style that has made Akerman famous, relics like those found in a museum.
Akerman, as world-travelled filmmaker, cannot remain inside this space for very long. She is a figure that is always passing through, but never staying. As the title suggests, this is “No Home” for her. Her transience compounds the sense of inevitability when, in the last scene that we see her in, she takes her leave from her mother for the last time, drawing the curtains back and taking suitcase in hand. By contrast the filmmaker’s world, driven by the curiosity of an artist, opens up upon the large, rolling expanses of a desert (filmed in Israel).
And yet while Akerman contrasts the confinement of her mother against her own sense of freedom, I couldn’t help but feel that it was precisely in these spaces, in these “distances” (as she calls them in the film) that I feel her come closest to her mother. It’s almost as if Akerman has to create distance in order to draw closer to her, and in this sense I am reminded of her earlier film News from Home (1977) where she reaches out to her mother from the distance of New York. When Akerman is at home with Natalia if feels as if they talk rather than connect. As Natalia confides to her carer at one point, Chantal “never talks”, or at least “never says anything interesting”. It is conversely when they are apart that I feel the moments of greatest connection: in the way that Natalia’s face lights up on the skype screen, barely being able to conceal the joy of seeing her daughter; in the way that Akerman movingly films her own reflection in the same screen, blurring the two identities into one, her own outline woven into the eyes of her mother; or in the landscape where the two are joined together in their spiritual home, as one image suggests: two mountains facing each other, a small fault line running between them.
It’s hard to watch such a personal film. It’s even harder to watch it in light of the untimely death of its author. We still feel her presence so strongly emanating from the screen, still breathing on us like the wind that blows through the field of grass in one scene. Akerman is the tree of the film’s opening, battered by strong winds yet standing there triumphantly, surveying the terrain beneath her. In this image we can feel that she has finally come home.