No Home Movie ★★★★

My senior year of undergraduate I took a Jewish studies class that included a trip to Berlin, Budapest, and Prague. While the class did not merely focus on the Holocaust but a wealth of Jewish history in Europe, what was most memorable from the trip was related to the Holocaust. And unlike many of my classmates, it wasn't the tour of Auschwitz where I found our guide to dramatize the violence in a way I found distasteful.

Rather, it was the art. In particular, the enormous wealth of art dedicated to empty space. Bombed out houses that weren't rebuilt, just a plaque memorializing their previous existence. A hole in the ground, covered with a window to see a stack of books to represent those that were burned. Dark rooms, underground corridors, and large stone slabs that dot the horizon like tombstones. I find representing real loss, grief, and violence to be a tightrope few artists of any medium can actually balance, but across Europe, I was profoundly struck by the memory of a void that would never be filled.

I feel the same way in the opening shot of Chantal Akerman's No Home Movie, an unassuming shot of a barren tree whipping about in violent winds. I feel it in a shot from a car of a desolate hilly landscape. In pretty much every shot that isn't the meat of the documentary itself, Akerman talking to her mother, I feel this emptiness. These shots are not traditionally cinematic. Much of this film appears to be shot on cheap, grimy cameras, possibly without color correction. I can't explain why I almost instantly felt like I was looking into the void, nor why that feeling remained even in shots of a park with people and dogs in it, but I couldn't shake it.

If the film had been 30 minutes of that, I may have given it a perfect score, but what it actually is about, Akerman's relationship with her mother never grabs me. I consistently find myself longing to revist the forlorn shots that break up these segments. I find them to capture the film's central theme of absence, those who died in the Holocaust and the trauma of those who survived, the infinite wealth that a mother can represent that can never be fully absorbed, the limitations of film itself: no home, no movie, no home movie, better than any conversation ever could.

On paper, Chantal Akerman has always felt like a director that I should appreciate, but her movies never clicked before now. I hope this means I will now appreciate her earlier work upon revisit.