On the occasion of the tribute to Chantal Akerman at the 38th Créteil International Film Festival, Moira Sullivan reviews two of her best films: Jeanne Dielman and Les Rendez vous d’ Anna in this double feature.
Les Rendez vous d’Anna (1978). Belgium, 127 mins. Directed by Chantal Akerman. Starring Aurore Clément, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and Magali Noël.
Actress Aurore Clément is guest of honor at the Créteil International Film Festival, 18-27 March, and several of her films are being screened. Whereas Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman is considered the late director’s best work, Les Rendez vous d’Anna would likely be second. This classic film screened March 19 in the presence of the brilliant French actress after a Face2Face with the public.
In many ways Clément defines the film with her particular gait and presence in front the camera. At the Face2Face, she still has this exactitude, and her evocative and graceful persona. The movement of figures within the frame is one of the components of mise-en-scéne, and Akerman uses this technique brilliantly. As with Dielman, the mise-en-scéne, or composition of the frame, is rigidly structured for the direction and artistic intention of the narrative. Whereas a director like Alfred Hitchcock is known for a strict adherence to the mise-en-scéne, often to the detriment of his female characters (icy blonde meltdowns typified by Tippi Hedren in The Birds, Kim Novak in Vertigo, and Janet Leigh in Psycho), Akerman uses this space to accentuate women in three dimensions. Anna is one such character, who fills every scene, and in almost every one of them her sturdy brown pumps define space and sound. Where she goes, the camera goes, and the sound of her shoes tells us something about her.
The philosopher Hélène Cixous wrote about écriture féminine in her essay, The Laugh of the Medusa (1975). I asked Chantal Akerman on a visit she made to Stockholm about the fact that the meeting Anna has with women is the only time in which she is allowed to speak. She said that she hadn’t planned it, but added that it was not intentional with a smile. Nevertheless, nearly 40 years later, it is clear that Anna’s inner language is spoken to women. Through most of the film, Anna listens as men and women speak but there is a difference when she listens to women. For them she is emotive, tears fill her eyes, something stirs in her that does not in her one-sided conversations with men. In Rendez vous d’Anna she has more to say to women because they do not talk at her, but to her. This includes her mother (Lea Massari) and her old friend Ida (Magali Noël). When she says no to a suitor, Heinrich Schneider played by Helmut Griem, she also says no to boredom in a bourgeois life. When she seems to say yes to Daniel, an indifferent suitor (Jean-Pierre Cassel), he turns his back to her or turns on the radio.
Akerman freely uses the arches or facades of buildings to place her characters, who for the most part are in hotels, or at train stations. Trains and train tracks are prominent and artistically arranged, evoking sounds and comprising images in the film. Anna is a filmmaker on the road, who travels to meet with publicists, distributors, friends, family, or lovers. On the way she has erotic encounters. The figures within these buildings do their duties in a repetitive fashion: maids turn down the beds, or strip them of bed sheets, blank-looking clerks check messages or reservations.
Anna realizes her own boredom and emptiness when she arrives home and walks through her apartment. In the fridge is only a bottle of water. The echo of her pumps are heard through the apartment devoid of anything but function. In her bed as she listens to her messages on her answering machine she realizes her lack of connection to the world and to others.
The 1978 film shows its date with a terribly modern-looking but non-functional TV with push buttons and a large answering machine that is situated underneath the telephone in Anna’s apartment. All calls are made in phone booths, telegraph offices or hotel rooms. There are no cell phones or computers. Were Anna to be young today, would she feel less empty with the predominance of social media and smart phones?