Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman

After the disappointment of her quasi-mainstream romantic comedy "A Couch in New York," with William Hurt and Juliette Binoche, veteran Gallic iconoclast Chantal Akerman is on navel-gazing terra more firma with this documentary self-portrait. Typically eccentric work will scarcely win over (or provide a useful introduction for) the previously unconverted, but should beguile her loyal fans on the usual fest and specialized broadcast circuits. Helmer was asked to participate in the "Cinema of Our Time" TV series; since her preferred directorial subjects had already been "done," she half-jokingly suggested doing pic on herself, an idea that was approved. She wanted to auto-profile solely by assembling clips from her films; producers insisted she include some original commentary.

After the disappointment of her quasi-mainstream romantic comedy “A Couch in New York,” with William Hurt and Juliette Binoche, veteran Gallic iconoclast Chantal Akerman is on navel-gazing terra more firma with this documentary self-portrait. Typically eccentric work will scarcely win over (or provide a useful introduction for) the previously unconverted, but should beguile her loyal fans on the usual fest and specialized broadcast circuits.

Helmer was asked to participate in the “Cinema of Our Time” TV series; since her preferred directorial subjects had already been “done,” she half-jokingly suggested doing pic on herself, an idea that was approved. She wanted to auto-profile solely by assembling clips from her films; producers insisted she include some original commentary.

Thus first 15 minutes feature Akerman in her apartment (with dog), musing on this task. “I’m steeped in indecision … I don’t know what I want to show about myself,” she says, before digressing liberally into a long metaphor likening self-exposure to “cow-selling.” “She makes movies because she makes movies because she makes movies because” is about the extent of insight here, but fans could hardly expect anything beyond such cryptic playfulness.

After that interlude is a long “Autoportrait” cutting between excerpts from Akerman’s long career — including early shorts, TV projects and features such as 1994’s compelling “Portrait of a Young Girl in Brussels in the Late Sixties” and what remains her most widely seen effort, 1975’s “Jeanne Dielman.”

There is no particular narrative or self-revealing method to the progression of clips, beyond fact that Akerman’s films often seem to sport an autobiographical, almost diary-like quality even when flirting with musical-comedy or dramatic conventions. While the cross section viewed is engaging, the lack of contextualizing (films are identified only in an initial, rapid scroll) limits educational value for neophyte viewers. As ever, Akerman’s attention to the minutiae of everyday life and her prankish, sometimes cloying sensibility will strike one as either amateurish or adventurous, irksome or endearing.

Tech package is best suited to broadcast play.

Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman

French

Production: An AMIP production. Produced, directed, written, edited by Chantal Akerman

Crew: Camera (color, vid), Ramon Fromont; sound, Xavier Vauthrin. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival, May 8, 1997. Running time: 64 MIN.

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