I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.
Title: News From Home
Release Date: 8 June 1977
Director: Chantal Akerman
Production Company: Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA) | Paradise Films | Unité Trois | Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF)
Before creating Sight and Sounds 2022 “Greatest Film of All Time” Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman lived in New York City from 1971-1973 self-reportedly as a “vagabond.” In 1976, Akerman returned to New York to shoot the footage for this film primarily in areas she’d spent time in on her earlier sojourn such as Hell’s Kitchen, the Meatpacking District, and the neighborhood now known as Tribeca, as well as on the subway and Staten Island Ferry. Much like New York 1911, the film serves as a time capsule of the city.
What sets this film apart is that the narration, read by Akerman, is entirely made up of letters her beloved mother Natalia sent her from 1971 to 1973. The letters show that motherhood is universal as they grow increasingly anxious. They’re also the only insight we have into Akerman’s character as she does not speak for herself.
The camera remains static for much of the film, I think there are 2 or 3 pans the entire movie, as it captures long takes of various parts of the city. The fun part for me was trying to recognize the places in the film, many of which have changed dramatically in the past 50 years. It was also interesting to watch the people in the movie, most of whom don’t seem to notice that there’s a camera filming them. I wondered if I might see anyone I know. Would I spot my father going to work? (I did not).
I wonder if I would’ve enjoyed this movie as much if Akerman filmed it in a city that I had no connection with, such as her native Brussels. All the same, for such a simple concept, I found this movie surprisingly affecting.