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Short of the Week: 'The Chamber' by Chantal Akerman

The Chamber

Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman is widely considered to be one of the most influential directors of the 20th century. With multiple masterpieces like Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and The Meetings of Anna in her illustrious filmography, Akerman has had a revolutionary impact on the world of cinema by forming a set of aesthetic principles for a feminist revision of the art-form.

The Chamber was the first film that Akerman made during her stay in New York. Shot on 16 mm, the camera examines the poetics of domestic space and presents us with glimpses of the filmmaker herself in her bed. It becomes a revelatory incursion into the nature of her own existence and the atmosphere of inaction that completely envelops her.

Akerman’s early short film cannot be categorised properly because it resembles an amorphous experiment that is undecided of its own ontology as well as its discoveries. In The Chamber’s absolute silence, Akerman conducts an imaginary conversation with her audience about the abstractions of daily life that often escape our eyesight.

While talking about her move to New York, Akerman said: “It was just a desire, like that. I don’t know anymore. I had the impression things were happening there, but I had no idea. I knew a few words of English, very few, when I arrived. I learned to get by rather quickly, and I never felt that I spoke badly. Here in France, yes. That’s why I say there are ‘French people.’ In New York, I felt relieved of the weight of not belonging. And at the same time, I felt that I didn’t belong. But that was part of the pleasure. Here, not belonging is not a pleasure.”

She continued: “Most of the time I make an image head on. I don’t think that a frontal image is idolatrous, because it’s a face-to-face with the other. But I realised that later, not at the beginning. The other will be in my place when they’re sitting in the movie theatre. Which is the same thing one could say about time: We sense time, so we sense ourselves. Face to face with an image, we sense ourselves. We are always on the outside when it comes to the other.”

Watch Chantal Akerman’s early short film The Chamber below.