News from Home ★★★½

By all accounts (stills, synopses) the best film I’d never seen. Akerman trains her camera on the perpendicularity of a found mise-en-scène: the New York grid, and the grids within it—crossroads, windows, frames, pillars—from which it takes much of its meaning. I’m drawn to this kind of grammar: the way it shapes and conditions our viewing as an attentive, reflexive process, both on a shot-to-shot level and in terms of the spatial arrangement of elements within a single frame. As much as I tend to champion the tripod-fixed master-shot, however, the most moving images here do actually move: those crab-like, kerb-level crawls through derelict urban infrastructure, and both the subterranean and later elevated railroad-glides that allow for a real-time stop-start passage through (and over) the city, revealing fleeting vanishing points with each lateral transition beyond each block. And there’s the final shot, too—a tripod-fixed long-take filmed from the aft deck of a ferry leaving Manhattan, gradually revealing its skyline under grey fog—which is startling for its simultaneously glacial pace and the sense of liberation that the nevertheless constant movement gives. All of this is great and fascinating and meaningful to me, but if I watch News from Home again I’ll do so with the subtitles off: while the structural arrangement of the imagery here finds obvious resonance in the actual content within each frame, the narration—composed of Akerman reading letters sent to her from her relentlessly whiny mother—doesn’t quite. Part of the power of that final shot, in fact, lies in its sense of rebellion and subsequent peace, with the director consciously drowning the voiceover out in favour of lapping waves and seagulls.