Je, tu, il, elle opens to the terse and contextually ambiguous, yet personally revealing statement “…And I left” as a nameless young woman – later identified as Julie (Chantal Akerman) – sits on a chair off-side of the frame with her back to the camera as she recounts an autobiographical anecdote into an obscured journal. The fragmentary and dissociated introductory episode provides an appropriate and incisive distillation into the essence of film (and more broadly, to Akerman’s cinema) itself as Julie passes idle time in her austere and sparsely furnished studio apartment by arbitrarily painting the walls in a different color one day to suit her whim (then another color on the next day), repositioning her few odd bits of furniture (a mattress, a bureau, a mirror, and a chair) within the confines of the room, and writing copious, but logically asequential and fractured stream of consciousness notes that methodically chronicle her thoughts, sentiments, and impulsive activities during her isolated, self-imposed solitude. The implicit obsessiveness to Julie’s seemingly Sisyphean ritual of meaningless and ritualistic domestic activity is an image that not only prefigures her seminal film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, but also illustrates the filmmaker’s often revisited (albeit, abstractly) theme of perpetual displacement: a sentiment of instinctual, existential rootlessness that carries through to a subsequent – and equally atemporal and indeterminate extended sequence – of Julie in an acute angle crane shot as she stands on the sidewalk of a busy intersection. Accepting a ride from an unnamed truck driver (Niels Arestrup) – the eponymous, referential “he” of the depersonalized title – Julie embarks on a different course of figurative displacement: abandoning her spartan apartment on a self-migration to an unknown destination as she accompanies the driver on his tediously autonomic long distance excursion. A third (and equally jarring) temporal break shows Julie near the main entrance of a nondescript residential building – presumably having earlier parted with the truck driver – as she pays an unexpected visit to her estranged lover (Claire Wauthion) who, despite having admitted her into the apartment, promptly tells her that she cannot stay, then proceeds to further compound the emotional ambiguity of her declaration by obliging Julie’s request for food and implied consent to her instigation of sexual intimacy. Julie’s actions are reduced to the primal and elemental: her consumption of sugar while writing letters in her apartment mirrors a subsequent scene in a bar in the company of the truck driver then finally, in her presumptuous seating at the kitchen table at her lover’s apartment. Akerman incorporates dissociated aural cues that illustrate the heroine’s innate pattern of alienation and estrangement: non-diegetic narration that either precedes, follows, or does not at all correlate with Julie’s on-screen actions; the truck driver’s extended monologues that convey the semblance of intimacy without the physical act; Julie’s momentary reconciliation with her lover that centers around the most fundamental instincts of human behavior. Akerman further reinforces the themes of instinctuality and dispossession through acts of dislocation and migration: physical objects (the re-arrangement of furniture), self (hitchhiking), and emotional attachment (abandonment of her lover). Chronicling Julie’s estranged but illuminating interaction with her environment, Je tu il elle serves an abstract, but intrinsically lucid framework for Akerman’s languid, meditative, provocative, and indelibly haunting expositions on spiritual and existential transience.
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