Chantal Akerman made an intensely personal exploration of her fragile mind – filled with existential dilemmas, psychological ambivalence and political inquiries – in her spare, solemn and minimalist diary film Down There. Its formally rigorous focus on constricted physical spaces, expressions of displacements, and melancholic silences remind one of her fearlessly naked early work Je Tu Il Elle, albeit with the bold foregrounding of her body in that film replaced with her monologues here. Her reflections on the Holocaust, her family and her Jewishness, in turn, presaged her final work No Home Movie where she discussed these topics with her mother who was a Holocaust survivor. It was made during the month that she spent in Tel Aviv as a guest lecturer in a university there, during which she stayed in an apartment lent by a friend. Set almost completely indoors and in a manner that was disarmingly voyeuristic, we see long stretches capturing an ageing couple residing in a house opposite to hers – he’s seen spending his time either tending to his plants or having coffee along with his wife in their balcony – captured through a static camera and shot in grainy visuals through the blinds on her windows. And these sparse, extended and strangely hypnotic long-takes were sparingly accompanied with Akerman’s distinctive voice covering a mix of thoughts, memories and musings on such aspects as suicide – her aunt who was once a very gregarious woman had killed herself as did Amos Oz’s mother –, if it would’ve been better to settle in Israel vis-à-vis Belgium after the WW2, and the troubling present day realities of Israel’s settler colonialism that’s manifested by a bombing that takes place in the neighbourhood.
Director: Chantal Akerman
Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Diary Film