News from Home (Chantal Akerman / France-Belgium-West Germany, 1977):

The fading bricked walls in desolate streets are made into astute perspective diagonals, a bus-stop sign gives the composition a strong vertical -- these are the streets of Taxi Driver, Chantal Akerman structures them all into a singular emotional state. New York City is at first a ghost town, spare traffic and car honks: The subway rattles from station to station like a phantom express, the director and her cameraman are reflected in the door panes as they slide shut. The stoicism of the images is enforced by the Belgian-accented voice that periodically reads aloud the contents of letters sent from Europe to "my dearest little girl." "We are all very proud of you. I am only frightened that you go out after night. It is very dangerous in New York." Mother writes of weddings, illnesses, credit problems, and, because she's a mother, weighs in on her daughter's project: "It's very well-written, but you know my taste. I find it sad and gloomy." Akerman's response is a procession of unerringly shot moving postcards, which refreshes the eye and the mind continuously. Storefronts reflect passing taxis as yellow blurs, the proliferating diners reveal the Edward Hopper undercurrent yet the filmmaker goes further and frames a busy chef through bars and slates for a screen within a screen. The camera is stationed at the subway station corridor, passengers amble past it like Alida Valli at the end of The Third Man -- people finally fill the canvas, yet it more than ever remains a work of solitude. Akerman thoroughly savors her stay, though Manhattan is at its most magical viewed from the vantage of a departing barge, a miraculous ten-minute shot that envisions an island swallowed by marine fog, half haunted and half enchanted. Cinematography by Babette Mangolte.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home