D’Est, which Chantal Akerman made just after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, was a work of beguiling bleakness, beauty and brevity. With its loosely structured, wryly observational and essayistic form, and defiant refusal to imbue the proceedings with any exposition or overt contextualization, this was a film that worked in and of itself as a hypnotic photo montage; that she captured the images, moments and atmosphere during her trips cutting across erstwhile Communist countries (Russia, East Germany, Poland, etc.) during a very precise political backdrop, laced the travelogue’s moodiness and melancholy with richness, prescience, meanings and existential inquiries. Made 16 years after her astonishing essay montage News from Home – which was set on the other side of the globe in New York – the two films formed a magnificent diptych thanks to their shared formal rigour and sparseness, kaleidoscopic structures, and impressionistic evocations of time, place, memory and zeitgeist. Akin to the earlier film, this too was shot using either static or gently traveling cameras and mostly using ambient sounds; however, where the latter also had a flavour of diary courtesy readings from letters from her mom, this was steadfastly sans any off-camera dialogues. Shot over the course of changing seasons – with the vivid buoyancy of the summer gradually giving way to gray, wintry desolation – we see people, streets, beaches, homes, kiosks, buildings and landscapes. The film’s single-take tracking shots – solitary aged woman walking along a sidewalk, group of travelers sauntering in the snow, people sitting in a station and standing outside, journey through the city – were especially engrossing, as were the myriad candid expressions on the people’s faces, ranging from bemused to belligerent to boredom to indifference.
Director: Chantal Akerman
Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Experimental/Silent Film