Chantal Akerman Makes a Film About her Late Mother

Lately, all I think about is loss--who I've lost and who I will lose. I write my thoughts in journals and think them in my head, rarely sharing them with anyone around me. It's overwhelming, at times, to be haunted by loss, to mourn people before they are even gone, and to mourn the people who actually are gone.

Tonight, I sat on the couch with my mom, as we usually do, and watched television but as we watched our shows I started to cry. Great swells of tears came out of me, I shuddered and heaved and hid my face and my mother didn't understand. I kept saying "I love you so much. I love you so much" and she said she loved me too. I had no words to tell her that I love her so much that my chest feels like it's breaking, that I distance myself from her, at times, just to ease the pain. I can't tell her that I have dreams of losing her, that I had one just the other night.

The dream was vivid. I can't remember all the details. What I remember is someone telling me she was dead and my body feeling the grief of it. The horror was real in that moment. It doesn't matter that I woke up from it. I still felt it. I feel the aftershocks of it even now.

I say "I love you" to my mother when I really want to say "Don't ever leave me. I can't live without you. I can't comprehend life without you and I am consumed by fear of a life without you." She lets me cry. She says I need to get it out, and she's right but I don't think I will ever get this out of me, this fear and grief.

So in the wake of all that, I'm compelled by news about Chantal Akerman's new film "No Home Movie," which is about the filmmaker's late mother, Nelly. I understand what the legendary filmmaker means when she says that, now that her mother is dead, "there is ‘no home’ anymore," Akerman's film reminds me of Sophie Calle's art installation about her own mother's death, though Akerman prefers to focus on life. Her documentary captures her mother alive, not dead, her mother talking to her and existing. Akerman says that, while editing the film, "I was living, and not mourning."

I just keep wondering how we live without these precious people, how we wander without any home, how we lose their arms and their scent and their voice and their presence, how we survive such a catastrophe.

With “No Home Movie,” the themes of displacement that thread throughout her work finally come to a head. “Even if I have a home in Paris and sometimes in New York, whenever I was saying I have to go home, it was going to my mother,” Ms. Akerman said with the deep, lilting tones familiar from the voice-overs and monologues that define many of her films. “And there is ‘no home’ anymore, because she isn’t there, and when I came the last time, the home was empty.” 
“No Home Movie” is an especially moving testament because of the devastating history that lay buried in her mother’s past. During World War II, after fleeing to Belgium from Poland, Nelly Akerman was sent to Auschwitz; her husband was hidden in Brussels, but other relatives died. The trauma left anxious aftershocks throughout the filmmaker’s oeuvre, often expressed obliquely. In the newest film (whose title echoes the uprooting and devastation caused by the Holocaust) Chantal Akerman tries to address the subject head-on, but her mother’s reticence is deep-seated. 
“She never wanted to speak about Auschwitz,” Chantal Akerman said. “I asked her once to tell me more, and she said, ‘No, I will get crazy.’ So we could speak around, or after, or before, but the real moment, never. Not directly.” 
Instead, in the film Ms. Akerman and her mother range through a variety of topics big and small: family anecdotes, stories of a secret love affair, recollections from rowdy school days, the shifting place of Judaism in their lives, and whether the dinner meat tastes good. It’s a fond back-and-forth, with Chantal Akerman taking a playful swipe now and again; her mother only ever loses her poise to gush with compliments. 
“So much love is coming out of her, and I was not aware of that,” Ms. Akerman said. Referring to her mother’s unwillingness to let one long-distance chat come to a close, Ms. Akerman said, “I knew she loved me, but when I see that Skype moment, it’s really like a love affair between us.”
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