“This film is about my late mother, about that woman who came to Belgium in 1938, fleeing the pogroms and violence of Poland. This woman who has only ever seen the inside of her apartment in Brussels. It’s a film about a changing world my mother doesn’t see”. There are some movies whose poetry and complexity can only be fully appreciated if one knows the history behind them. No Home Movie is one of them.
Chantal Akerman’s mother Natalia had a huge influence on the director’s life and work. She encouraged her daughter not to marry young and supported her passion for film-making ever since a 15-year-old Akerman fell in love with Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou and decided to devote her life to cinema.
No Home Movie is the portrait of this relationship, of the love between a mother and her daughter, which Akerman paints with a compassionate and delicate gaze. The 115 minutes show the life of her elderly mother in her Brussels apartment. It’s a minimalist painting, a still life where the flat turns into a character in its own right. Akerman documents her mother’s gestures and sees herself through her eyes. Very little is said: the conversations flow unscripted as Natalia recalls her daughter’s youth and Chantal asks about her mother’s time during World War II, her escape from Poland and search for a new home.
The camera stands still for most of the film, as if camouflaged in between the furniture, to catch glimpses of the women’s lives and their conversations. There are moments in which chats and actions take place outside the frame, and one feels somewhat constrained, as Akerman turns the viewer and the camera into a single thing and the spectator becomes a silent observer of the drama’s unfolding.
Natalia Akerman’s agoraphobia and her post-Auschwitz anxiety are themes that run through much of Akerman’s oeuvre. At times we hear the director asking her mother to leave the house and go out for a walk. But Natalia almost never does.
Yet the movie opens with the camera looking out towards an arid area, with some trees bending down for the ferocious wind that shakes them. It is not an isolated case. Akerman scatters these outside shots throughout the film: a man sitting on a bench with his back towards the camera, the sight of a desert passing through the window, water splashing against the director’s feet. If Natalia won’t leave her house then it is up to her daughter to show her the beauty and the ordinary life of the outside world. The vast immensity of a desert and the brutal cries of the wind are juxtaposed to the still, almost soundless life of the apartment.
Chantal Akerman committed suicide on October 5 2015, a year and a half after her mother passed away at 86. As Natalia’s health deteriorates the film slowly turns into a daughter’s desperate call for her mother not to leave her, and for her history to survive. No Home Movie is a daughter’s love declaration to her mother, to her memory, and to the invaluable help cinema can offer to the preservation of one’s history and past.