News from Home
In some ways, the films that are hardest to write about are those that touch deeply but not precisely. I felt this film more than I understood it, and I’ve had a lot of trouble articulating exactly what it is about it that is so moving to me. Still, as always, I’m here to give it a try.
The story, such as it is, is the voiceover narration of many letters that director Chantal Akerman’s mother sent her during the year and a half she lived in New York City. The constant theme is her mother’s desire that she write home more often. Interspersed with that are various small details of what’s going on back home in Belgium, as well as some hints at deeper emotional trauma her mother is experiencing.
It’s interesting. I didn’t know while watching this that Akerman’s parents were Holocaust survivors. I didn’t even know that Akerman was Jewish. Still, I think those facts have a lot to do with my connection with the film. That’s the power of cinema, and especially this kind of structuralist cinema, that details like that matter, even if you aren’t aware of them. This film touched me, and touched on my own personal family history, without my ever knowing it consciously. That’s real connection.
More than that, it was probably a benefit that I didn’t know. I didn’t have any expectations and no guards were up. I was able to feel the connection, and the message, without even understanding why I was feeling it. What a fascinating thing that is.