Credit: IFFR
by Joshua Peinado Featured Film

yours, — Eva Giolo, Rebecca Jane Arthur, Katja Mater, Sirah Foighel Brutmann, Eitan Efrat, Maaike Neuville [IFFR ’24 Review]

February 8, 2024

yours, is an anthology piece commissioned by Kunstencentrum Nona (Nona Arts Center) to pay tribute to Chantal Akerman — a titan of durational and feminist cinema. The film is made up of five shorts, all directed by women (one co-directed with a man), which reflect various modes of cinema that Akerman championed. The first, Stone, Hat, Ribbon and Rose by Eva Giolo, is a standout. The clearest tribute to any of Akerman’s individual films operates as an homage to News From Home, touring the subways and streets of Brussels, Akerman’s place of birth. Gorgeous city shots are interspersed with footage of women in a studio performing various ritual tasks — scratching their backs, playing with toy cars, taking photographs. As an aesthetic and thematic portrait of Akerman’s films, Giolo’s short does something more obvious than the others. It recreates the dynamic of News From Home and cuts it against women engaging in banal tasks (something Akerman would frequently do, most famously in Jeanne Dielmann). The sections featuring Giolo’s women, however, lack the intrigue that Akerman imbued into her works. When Jeanne Dielmann peels a potato, every flick of the knife — and the meaning it communicates — reverberates through one’s body; Giolo’s nameless women are just that — nameless. Their actions mean little in the context of the short, and the jarring cuts between the ethereal interiors of the city and the professionally-lit, baby blue backdrop only highlight how much more beautiful Giolo’s city shots are. Some particularly stunning shots of pools echo Ellie Epp’s Trapline, which was inspired by Akerman’s Hotel Monterey. The cyclical nature of the avant-garde!

Barefoot Birthdays on Unbreakable Glass by Rebecca Jane Arthur is the most ambiguous in its connection to Akerman. It acts as a documentary showcasing the lives and passions of three women: Constance Neuenschwander, a gardener; Azam  Masoumzadeh, an illustrator; and Anna Dede, an artist. The theme of motherhood arises in all their stories, but the anchoring point of the film is the birthday they share in the film’s last part. In an experimental montage, Arthur shares in the joy of these women celebrating. Although interesting in its own right, Akerman is rarely implicated beyond passing references to Brussels. Though Akerman’s connection to her mother is necessary to understanding the artist, Barefoot Birthdays’ doesn’t make the connection strong enough to take up lasting space in the viewer’s mind. 

When Things Fall Apart by Katja Mater plays fast and loose with the “homage” designation, instead taking on a more spiritual connection to Akerman. Mater made the film between the passing of her father and the passing of her mother, guided by the death doula Staci Bu Shea. It’s the most formally simple, and most breathtaking in its execution. The film oscillates between hand-written journal entries, showcased word-by-word, and still “aerial drawings” of celestial objects using multiple exposures to position the bodies outside of time and space, in a realm entirely of their own. The text portions of the film are daring in overcoming their apparent banality thanks to inspired movement from Mater’s camera and penmanship that allows the material to flow as if guided by gravity. It’s a more poetic take on something more structural like So is This, the comedy by Michael Snow which plays one word at a time to great effect. As for the words themselves? They read like something a “spiritual” therapist might have on posters in their office. “Your loss and grief are not so material. It is the unseen that will be very important.” These entries are, of course, very personal to Mater’s own experiences with grief and are partly attributed to her exercises with Bu Shea. However, most remain either too literal or too vague to contribute much meaning to an viewer’s life, though it is nonetheless an ambitious response to Akerman’s own grief in the face of her mother’s death, which ultimately drove her to suicide.

Un Âne by Sirah Foighel Brutmann and Eitan Efrat marks a sudden political turn for the film, and a very timely one at that. Both Brutmann and Efrat were born in Israel, which Akerman called home for a period of time. In Akerman’s final film, No Home Movie, she uses shots of the Negev desert as contrast to her mother’s apartment. Akerman’s Negev is a gorgeous, anonymous landscape that haunts the film. In Un Âne, Brutmann and Efrat attempt to reckon with Akerman’s place in the displacement of Palestinians, defying the “anonymity” with which the desert was cast in Akerman’s work and placing the images they’ve shot of the desert in squarely political terms. They narrate a letter to Akerman: “Since 1948, this desert is a place of continuous and daily erasure. The erasure of roads, plants, water sources, of knowledge, histories and livelihoods of Palestinian Bedouin communities.” There is much to be said about Akerman’s complicated relationship with Israel, which merits more than an aside, but is spoken of at some length and to great effect in motelabyss’ review of Là-bas. In some of Yours,’ most moving images, the filmmakers recall a white donkey they met in the desert, and imagine that it holds the spirit of Akerman. The white donkey grazes the desert in the night as the film turns to black.

The possibility of being sea by Maaike Neuville ends the anthology on a mixed note. It’s another letter following Un Âne, but this time addressed to the filmmaker’s mother. It’s a sentimental piece focusing on Neuville’s child. The director seems to lament the looming death of her mother, and celebrates her own motherhood. While she does compose occasionally stirring pictures, much of the visual language feels amateur compared to what comes before. It’s as earnest as any of the shorts included, and it’s hard to fault the unabashed feeling of spontaneity the film captures in its most tender moments between mother and child, but the film is disserviced by its position as a capstone to the project. Its last shot, however, is as beautiful as the best work of Neuville’s collaborators, as waves, catching light, mirror pyramids across a dazzling blue sea.

Published as part of IFFR 2024 — Dispatch 3.