90 Movies in 90 Days: News From Home

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.


Book Reviews: Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa

Around the World for a Good Book selection for: Syria

Author: Khaled Khalifa
Title: Death Is Hard Work
Translator: Leri Price
Narrator: Neil Shah
Publication Info: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books (2019)

During the Syrian Civil War, a rebel leader named Abdel Latif al-Salim dies of natural causes.  His dying wish is to buried by his sister in their hometown of Anabiya.  His son Bolbol, a middle child viewed as weak an indecisive, pledges honor this wish.  Joined by his older brother Hussein and younger sister Fatima set off on a journey with their father’s body.

The normally short trip runs into snags due to the many military checkpoints along the way, as well as religious extremists and even wild dogs.  At one point, Abdel Latif’s body is even arrested for his alleged crimes against the government.  The book is a reflection on the human cost of war and how it interrupts the normal flow of life.  It also depicts a family’s collapse as the siblings who were close as children now find themselves distant.  The book is heartbreaking and more than a little absurd, and very human in its details.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***