In 1971, 21-year old Chantal Akerman briefly moved to New York, and that period had a lasting influence for her; “living like a vagabond” on minimal finances and working multiple odd-jobs, it compelled her to experience a complex mix of longing and alienation, and introduced her to different schools of experimental cinema. These transformative aspects were magnificently manifested in her sublime, transfixing, melancholic and silently wrenching essay film News from Home, which she made upon a revisit to NYC right after her extraordinary masterpiece Jeanne Dielman. The way she combined formal rigour with profoundly personal touch, and spare style with a haunting tone, made this a work of rare beauty. Comprising of roughly 60 shots photographed in grainy colours, largely using a static camera and in ambient sounds – she’d revisit this approach 16 years later in the equally stunning D’Est – it comprised of edgy, gritty, visceral vignettes of the city, viz. subways, underground stations, pavements, alleys, diners, shops, buildings, walls, waterfront, etc. The subway sections were especially arresting, as was a 10-minute sequence taken from a moving car capturing the city’s imposing skyscrapers, and the 10-minute finale of a receding Manhattan skyline shot aboard a ferry bound for Staten Island. This gripping mosaic was accompanied by intensely personal letters from her mother (read out by Akerman) – filled with mundane details and immense yearning for her daughter, with the tone ranging from affectionate to petulant – written from Brussels during that period. That her mom (who we’d get to know very closely in her touching swansong No Home Movie) was a Holocaust survivor, laced additional layers of meaning and pathos to the underlying neurosis, loneliness, fears and desperation in her letters.
Director: Chantal Akerman
Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Avant-Garde/Experimental