Wednesday, March 1, 2017


an anxiety disorder characterized by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives the environment to be unsafe with no easy way to get away.
Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid these situations. In severe cases people may become unable to leave their homes.

I know this is a stock/cliché statement for just about any Chantal Akerman film but...La Bas is not for everyone. It is truly an acquired taste. If you are not familiar with, or a super fan of Akerman’s work, La Bas could very well be seen as a study in agoraphobia (imagine a film told from the perspective of Robert Crumb’s brothers in Crumb). The entire film, which straddles the line between documentary & fiction, is shot from the inside of an apartment from the perspective of a shut-in (Akerman) accompanied with Akerman’s own raspy voiceover narration. So you can see how that would be considered “boring” to the average person/movie-watcher. La Bas is essentially a film about a person observing her neighborhood from insider her apartment while reflecting on her current existence. It’s totally understandable if that doesn’t sound appealing. However, to a Chantal Akerman fan this is a quietly important film that not only bridges the gap between her early/classic films and her final film (No Home Movie), but it also gives some (possible) insight in to her own psyche.

In no way do I want to over-analyze and/or romanticize Akerman’s suicide but depression, melancholia, loneliness & sadness were all common elements in her work (not every film but still…). And it is my opinion that her (personal) work was a reflection of her own self more than the average filmmaker who sprinkles autobiographical bits of themselves in to their movies. Les Rendezvous D’Anna is about a female filmmaker doing the festival circuit with her latest film (that has to be autobiographical). News From Home is a loose documentary chronicling late 70’s New York City (Akerman had a few stints living in New York City). No Home Movie is a documentary chronicling her mother’s day-to-day life (Akerman’s sister also makes an appearance midway in to the film). She was also known to work with subjects who take their craft quite seriously (Pina Bauch).

Chantal Akerman's movies are also quite intimate...

Je Tu Il Elle
Hotel Monterey
Les Rendezvous D'Anna
News From Home

The up close & personal feel of Akerman’s early work is seen all throughout La Bas. Saute Ma VilleJe Tu Il Elle are shot primarily in small apartment kitchens & elevators while La Bas takes place in a seemingly tiny & darkly lit apartment. In Je Tu Il Elle we see Akerman looking out of windows quite a bit. In La Bas we see a first person perspective of Akerman looking out of windows. Is LA Bas a loose sequel to Je Tu Il Elle? Is Chantal Akerman playing the same “character” from her 1967 film, or is La Bas just a continued exploration of her personal life on film?

looking out of a window in Je Tu Il Elle (vouyerism is a common theme in Akerman's work)
deeper/closer vouyerism in La Bas

While Akerman released some films between La Bas in 2006 and her final film in 2015, I stand by the statement that La Bas bridged her later work with her early work. Half of No Home Movie is set in her mother’s kitchen just like in Saute Ma Ville. No Home Movie brought things full circle and La Bas was simply the arc that connected everything because it shared the same claustrophobic, isolated, intimate feel as the aforementioned films.

Full circle: dining in the first & last films of Chantal Akerman
Soute Ma Ville/No Home Movie

a mental disorder characterized by at least two weeks of low mood that is present across most situations. It is often accompanied by low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, low energy, and pain without a clear cause. People may also occasionally have false beliefs or see or hear things that others cannot. Some people have periods of depression separated by years in which they are normal while others nearly always have symptoms present. Major depressive disorder can negatively affects a person's personal, work, or school life, as well as sleeping, eating habits, and general health.

It goes without saying that you had to be suffering from depression when suicide comes in to the picture but I truly wonder how depressed she was. There were many speculations surrounding Akerman’s suicide ranging from a failed relationship to her dissatisfaction with how her films were received/criticized over the last decade or so (we’ll never really know). But based on her constant work & output up until her death in conjunction with the more textbook description of what depression is – I see some discrepancies…

No matter how disappointed she may have been with the criticisms of her later films, it still didn’t stop her from putting out work pretty regularly (it should be noted that both IMDB & Wikipedia have her filmography incorrect with quite a few gaps). While working as a filmmaker she also taught film. I know enough from other filmmakers to know that teaching film rather than actually making them can be a little frustrating because it feels like a "step down", but, if I’m not mistaken, Akerman taught and made films at the same time which seems pretty motivated to me. But who knows? People hide their unhappiness in many different ways so there’s no point in trying to get to the bottom of “why?”. But I am fairly certain that La Bas is a peek in to the depressive side of things. I like to imagine Chantal Akerman made it during a depressing yet motivated/functioning period in her life. This is honestly a film she could have made without a crew. The lighting is mostly natural using the sunlight from all the windows in the apartment. And when there is no sunlight things get so dark to the point where you can’t see anything. So I doubt there was a lighting person on this film. A lot of the shots are long & uninterrupted so I don’t see the editing process being to grueling or tedious either. There isn’t even any music. I wonder if La Bas could be “registered”/considered for a dogma95 certification (by the time this film was made the dogma95 movement had died out so I doubt anyone would have taken notice).


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