Je Tu Il Elle (Chantal Akerman / Belgium, 1974):

The grammaticism of the title gives Chantal Akerman the structure, ambling through Brussels in three wry, 30-minute blocks. Je is 24-year-old Akerman trying to write a letter in a bare room, musing sparsely on the soundtrack ("I wrote six pages to say the same thing"), swallowing spoonful after spoonful of sugar straight out of a bag, lounging naked in front of a glass door. Il is the scruffily handsome trucker (Niels Arestrup) who gives her a ride; he buys her a beer, she jerks him off below the frame and listens to his monologue about his wife, children, and on-the-road flings. Elle is Claire Wauthion, the heroine's estranged lover and the picture's elusive anchor: "I don't want you to stay," she tells her guest, sandwiches and heavy girl-on-girl action follow, Akerman packs in the morning and leaves. Tu is the audience, certainly, pulled in by the Warholian use of viewer perception to shape what transpires before the lenses. This is Akerman's debut, and already a triumph of deadpan severity, off-screen space and sound (traffic, footsteps, an American gangster film overheard at the pit stop) register masterfully, the shaving of a beard or a meal being made become ethereal mini-movies unspooling in real-time, stark yet brimming with sensation. Voyeurism, connection and identity are the themes, the last image could be the first, the presence of mise-en-scène is acknowledged (thus abstracted) by moving furniture around the frame -- Akerman attains control by setting up the rigorous stance of the camera, then beauty by exposing herself awkwardly in front of it. Self-portraiture is a perilous venture in any medium, but here the screen is blanched until narcissism evaporates, leaving only a vulnerable artist trying out things, somewhat like Fassbinder and friends in front of a blank wall. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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