Chantal Akerman, Feminist Cinema Pioneer, Dies at 65

Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, known for her experimental films that closely examined women’s lives, died Oct. 5 in Paris. She was 65.

The New York Times reported that she had been hospitalized recently for depression, while France’s Le Monde said she committed suicide. Her parents were Polish Holocaust survivors, and her latest film, “No Home Movie,” is based on conversations between the filmmaker and her late mother. The film screened at Locarno and will show at the New York Film Festival.

Akerman was born in Brussels and was inspired to make films after seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s “Pierrot le Fou” as a teenager. She made her most well-known work in 1975 when she was just 25: The three-hour long “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” follows a housewife in real time and builds to a dramatic ending. It has been called one of the first and greatest feminist films.

Akerman’s work influenced directors, including Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, Sally Potter and Michael Haneke. She took a more commercial approach in 1996’s “A Couch in New York,” which starred Juliette Binoche and William Hurt.

Van Sant told France’s Liberation that seeing “Jeanne Dielman” was “one of those experiences that changes the way you think, the way you see, the way you imagine cinema.

The Toronto Film Festival described her influence in a statement: “Daring, original, uncompromising and in all ways radical, Akerman revolutionized the history of cinema not only with her masterpiece ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,’ but also with the sustained urgency of her brilliance. With acknowledged influences from Michael Snow and Godard, Akerman created new formal languages and consistently expanded cinema’s reach with her restless curiosity and willingness to wade into taboo subjects.”

She made her first film, “Saute Ma Ville” (“Blow Up My City”), at the age of 18. In the black-and-white short, she destroys her kitchen, then blows it up with gas. In her 40-plus films, she often repeated themes of alienation with echoes of the trauma of the Holocaust. Among her other films were Joseph Conrad adaptation “Almayer’s Folly,” Marcel Proust adaptation “The Captive,” “News From Home” and “A Whole Night.”

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