Filmmaker Chantal Akerman profiles her dying mother, Natalia.
The word ‘personal’ is bandied around a lot in film reviews, but it’s hard to think of a work that better fits the description than avant-garde icon Chantal Akerman’s intimate swansong ‘No Home Movie’. It’s personal in subject matter, depicting the slow decline of Akerman’s own mother Natalia, dying of an unspecified lung illness in her Brussels apartment. And it’s personal in style, too, shot on low-grade digital cameras in natural light, the main ‘action’ interspersed with wordless, unconnected travelling shots filmed in a Middle Eastern desert.
Akerman, who took her own life last year, always drew inspiration from her mother – railing against her in feminist masterpiece ‘Jeanne Dielmann’ and using her letters in the essay-film ‘News from Home’. Here, she lets Natalia speak for herself, filming as the old woman recalls the Nazi occupation of Belgium, grumbles about her health or gossips about other members of the family. Formally, the film can be hard to warm to: Akerman keeps us at a distance, and there are a lot of empty silences. But as anyone who’s ever watched a loved one die will know, this is how it happens: long episodes of helpless tedium interspersed with brief moments of intense heartbreak.