News from Home, 1977

News from Home presents a series of abstract and fragmentary images of everyday urban life in 1970s New York City, accompanied by the distinctive narration of filmmaker Chantal Akerman as she dispassionately reads through her mother’s alternately affectionate, melancholic, and sincere, but maternally manipulative letters from her native Belgium. The film opens to the surreal image and ambient sound of early morning Manhattan, as occasional cars and delivery trucks traverse through an unusually empty streets, punctuated by Akerman’s resonant voice as she reads her mother’s sometimes tangential and anecdotal news from home: “My dearest little girl, I just got your letter and I hope that you’ll continue to write to me often. Anyway, I’ll hope that you’ll come back to me soon. I hope that you are still well and that you’re already working. I see that you like New York and you seem to be happy. We are very pleased even though we’d like to see you again very soon.” As the rhythm of the mundane and episodic fragments of metropolitan life begin to converge with the cadence of the articulated, but unavoidably distanced expression of a mother’s ambivalence over her daughter’s absence, Akerman reflects the alienating and personal struggle of a young artist.

Chantal Akerman creates a visually dissociative, rigorously symmetrical, and understatedly affecting chronicle on alienation, longing, and creative expression in News from Home. Akerman juxtaposes the novelty and indigenous energy of the city with the palpable estrangement from home and family to reflect the dilemma between emotional need and artistic independence: Akerman’s off-camera narration that, in turn, serves as a surrogate voice for her geographically distant mother; the intrusive, distracting, and often overwhelming sounds of the city in motion during the reading of the letters; the dynamic interaction between film and real-life as the idiosyncratic behavior of inquisitive and perplexed subjects are captured before the static and inanimate camera. By illustrating the confluence of environmental stimuli and emotional sentiment, Akerman reveals the personal disconnection and isolating process of cultural immersion inherent in the maturation of an artist.

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