Chantal Anne Akerman (6 June 1950 – 5 October 2015) was a Belgian film director, screenwriter, artist, and film professor at the City College of New York. She is best known for Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). In 2022, Jeanne Dielman came first in the Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll of critics, and joint fourth in the directors survey. According to film scholar Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Akerman's influence on feminist and avant-garde cinema is substantial.
- When you read a text, you’re on your own time. That is not the case in film. In fact, in film, you’re dominated by my time. But time is different for everyone. Five minutes isn’t the same thing for you as it is for me. And five minutes sometimes seems long, sometimes seems short. Take a specific film, say, D’Est: I imagine the way each viewer experiences time is different. And on my end, when I edit, the timing isn’t done just any way. I draw it out to the point where we have to cut. Or take another example, News from Home: How much time should we take to show this street so that what’s happening is something other than a mere piece of information? So that we can go from the concrete to the abstract and come back to the concrete—or move forward in another way. I’m the one who decides. At times I’ve shot things and I’ve said, "Now this is getting unbearable!" And I’ll cut. For News from Home it’s something else, but I have a hard time explaining it.
- Everyone thought, for example, that Jeanne Dielman was in real time, but the time was totally recomposed, to give the impression of real time. There I was with Delphine [Seyrig], and I told her, "When you put down the Wiener schnitzels like that, do it more slowly. When you take the sugar, move your arm forward more quickly." Only dealing with externals. When she asked why, I’d say, "Do it, and you’ll see why later." I didn’t want to manipulate her. I showed her afterward and said to her, "You see, I don’t want it to 'look real,' I don’t want it to look natural, but I want people to feel the time that it takes, which is not the time that it really takes." I only saw that after Delphine did it. I hadn’t thought of it before.
- "In Her Own Time: An Interview with Chantal Akerman" ArtForum (April 2004)
- [On directing Jeanne Dielman aged 25.] It’s not very modest of me, but I’m still so proud I did it at that age.
- A lot of it came unconsciously. [...] When I wrote it, it ran like a river.
- Delphine Seyrig complained that there was so much detail she didn’t have to invent anything.
- [On the isms ("feminism, minimalism, structuralism") present in analysis of Jeanne Dielman.] I don’t think it’s minimalist, [...] I think it’s maximalist. It’s big! And if I did the film now I don’t know that it would be called feminist. It could have been done about a man, too. All those labels are a bit annoying [...] To name something is a way to possess it. I think it makes the film smaller. And O.K., maybe they are right, but they are never right enough.
- [A male client of the lead character, a part-time prostitute, is stabbed with scissors near the end of the film.] In most movies you have crashes or accidents or things out of the ordinary, so the viewer is distracted from his own life. [...] This film is about his own life.
- Jeanne has to organize her life, to not have any space, any time, so she won’t be depressed or anxious [...] She didn’t want to have one free hour because she didn’t know how to fill that hour.
- It came from what I saw as a kid, all those gestures of my mother. [...] That’s why the film is so precise.
- I sometimes think I should have made it after many other films, at the end of my career. [...] I remember saying to myself, how can I make a better film? But it was also exactly the film I had to make then. It says something about a woman, about a way of living a life, about life after the war. It was the first thing I had to pour out of myself. [...] I would have changed nothing about it.
- "Then as Now, the Terrors of the Routine" The New York Times (January 16, 2009)
- For many reasons, I believe more in books than images. The image is an idol in an idolatrous world. In a book, there’s no idolatry, even if you can idolise the characters. I believe in the book; when you immerse yourself in a huge book, it’s like an event, an extraordinary one.
- Previously, I had felt a kind of energy in life, with moments of depression of course – but I read constantly, took notes, was curious about everything. Then it was gone … The breakdown knocked me out. Before, I walked barefoot in the street, I brought poor people home, I wanted to save the world. Imagine, I telephoned Amnesty International to try to get them to dig a hole to the other side of the earth, to Siberia, so they’d get out all the people imprisoned in the camps! I wanted them to have 10,000 Socialist Jews brought to Israel to change the government and make peace … But I wasn’t living there, and it’s for the Israelis to know what’s to be done. Not for us who live here, for the time being, securely.
I want the days to end early. I go to bed at 5pm, at 8pm, with sleeping pills. Without complaining. That’s how it is. I cope with my illness. It’s an illness like any other.
- "The Pajama Interview"" Iola Issue 2: Devils (2011), rerinted from Viennale 'Useful Book #1' publication: Chantal Akerman, The Pajama Interview (2011).
- I think if I knew I was going to do this, I wouldn’t have dared to do it.
- 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. And there is 'no home' anymore, because she isn’t there, and when I came the last time, the home was empty.
- She never wanted to speak about Auschwitz. [...] 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.
- From an interview quoted in "Chantal Akerman Takes Emotional Path in Film About 'Maman'" The New York Times (5 August 2015)
- The article is concerned with the release of Akerman's No Home Movie, which features extended conversations between the director and her mother, Natalia (Nelly), a Holocaust survivor.