Museo Reina Sofía and Filmoteca Española have come together every autumn since 2016 to organise an audiovisual programme. Following retrospectives devoted to Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Dziga Vertov and Early Soviet Cinema, and Chinese film-maker Wang Bing, this series offers the most comprehensive film exhibition to date on the oeuvre of Chantal Akerman (1950–2015). The Belgian film-maker’s work gives utterance to biography, a gaze which is mindful of women’s living conditions, the personal and historical memory of twentieth-century traumas, and the alienation involved in making against-the-grain cinema.
Her filmography explores the different possibilities of the film medium, from experimental documentary to audiovisual installation, via auteur fiction and biographical video, while managing to sustain a series of common traits that stretch across her entire body of work. These include formal rigour, a fascination with the passage of time, the tragicomic meaning of existence, life as a theme for art and art as a form of life, the gaze at the objectual world that confines women, sometimes from a critical standpoint, sometimes as a resource for invoking memories, in addition to a feminist and politically committed cinephilia that assimilates at the same time as it subverts points of reference such as Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michael Snow. Her final film, No Home Movie (2015), a declaration of love to her mother, takes us back to where it all began in 1968, inside a kitchen in a petit bourgeois house in Brussels with the contradictory impulses of home and exile. Akerman was born to a family of holocaust survivors, as the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, a precedent that explains the existence of guilt and absence in her work, in a similar fashion to her denouncement of new contemporary historical traumas, from the misery of the old Soviet republics after the fall of the Berlin Wall, explored in D´Est [From the East, 1993], to the racist murders in the USA that she spotlights in her film Sud [South, 1999].
The series is divided into five programmes constituting cardinal points from which to move through the four decades of her output. On one side, Film-Essays, Filming Theatre and Akerman by Akerman in the Museo Reina Sofía and, on the other, Fictions and Biographies and Forms of Genre in the Filmoteca. Film-Essays examines her subjective and experimental documentary-making, from her early career and New York years to her return in the final decade; Filming Theatre comprises films on music, dance, performance and the stage, for instance pieces on theatre inspired by Sylvia Plath or devoted to Pina Bausch; and Akerman by Akerman, comprising the documentaries in which the film-maker commentates on her own work through words and images, as well as approaches to her as a director by other directors. Filmoteca Española concurrently presents Fictions and Biographies, a survey of her fictional films with screenings that explore the limits between representation, experience and life — Saute ma ville [Blow Up My Town, 1968], Je tu il elle [I You He She, 1974] and the acclaimed Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080, Bruxelles [Jeanne Dielman, Quai du Commerce No. 23, 1080 Brussels, 1976] — and other films which, despite investigating the sphere of auteur fiction with acclaimed actors and large-scale productions, also stand out for Akerman never losing sight of her obsessions and touchstones; and, finally, Forms of Genre, analysing transformations in the genres of melodramas, musicals and romantic comedies that Akerman put through their paces in the 1980s as an exercise on the hope and seduction of the film medium.
Furthermore, the series includes presentations with film-makers, theorists and historians, some of Akerman’s travel companions — for instance, her cinematographer Babette Mangolte and film editor Claire Atherton — and the participation of young voices, for instance film-makers Diana Toucedo and theorist Ivone Margulies.