★★★☆☆The late Chantal Akerman's final film No Home Movie opens on a shot of a tree being buffeted by the wind with a barren expanse of Israeli desert stretching into the distance. The composition lasts for several minutes and is the first of five such asides dotted throughout this intimate portrait of the director's ageing mother, Natalia, who passed away in 2014. Their meaning remains ambiguous, though the film's title may perhaps suggest their inclusion is intended to illustrate some tangential link between Akerman's own emotional distance from her mother's Brussels apartment, and her mother's spiritual one from Israel.
It's actually some time before there is any real dialogue in No Home Movie and the first exchange, between Natalia and Chantal concerning potatoes, can't help but recall the dinner table banalities of Jeanne and Sylvain. There are long takes in which nothing visibly happens, though Natalia can be heard shuffling about her apartment off scree. Akerman often aims her camera at the windows, glimpsing the outside world through the net curtains that her mother sees it through. Though there is ample mention of outdoor sojourns, Akerman's film only observes Natalia's existence within the confines of her bourgeois Brussels apartment. "She's never really talked to me," Natalia laments at one point, once her health deteriorates.
Natalia is told that Chantal never stops talking, but counters that it's never about anything important. It's an interesting accusation to come towards the end of a film that seems to never have really said any of the things it vaguely nods towards. Family history and the persecution of Jews in Poland and Belgium are briefly touched upon in another dinner table chat, likewise Natalia's memories of her parents and husband. But instead, Akerman keeps her camera sat at a distance, rested on a sideboard, observing mundanity. It's impossible not to be sucked into, but it's equally impossible not to imagine how much more significant No Home Movie might have been.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson