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Chantal Anne Akerman

Chantal Anne Akerman, (born June 6, 1950, Brussels, Belg.—died Oct. 5, 2015, Paris, France), Belgian filmmaker who explored the mundane details of ordinary life with a clear eye and a strong feminist sensibility She burst onto the international scene at the 1975 Cannes film festival with her avant-garde classic Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). The film, which runs 201 minutes, follows the daily minutiae in the life of a widowed mother (portrayed by Delphine Seyrig) as she cooks, cleans, and engages in part-time prostitution to help pay the bills—with tragic results. Akerman’s Jewish father spent World War II in hiding, while her mother was the only member of her Jewish family to survive the Auschwitz concentration camp, and the director readily acknowledged that she was influenced by their experiences during and after the war. She studied at a film school in Brussels, but she dropped out and briefly lived in New York City. She gained respect with the black-and-white short Saute ma ville (1968) and the New York-based documentary Hôtel Monterey (1972). Akerman directed more than 40 films, including Je, Tu, Il, Elle (1974; she also played the lead), the musical Golden Eighties (1986), and the romantic comedy A Couch in New York (1996), as well as documentaries and video installations. Her final work, No Home Movie (2015), consisted of a documented conversation with her mother recorded shortly before the latter’s death in 2014. Akerman had long struggled with depression, and it was reported that she committed suicide.

Melinda C. Shepherd