Out French-Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman reportedly committed suicide last night at the age of 65.
Chantal started to create at age 17 with her first short film, Saute Ma Ville in 1968. She often acted wrote and acted in her own work, including 1976’s Je Tu Ill Elle, which featured one of the first ever lesbian sex scenes on film. Chantal is part of the scene, a naked wrestling match with her lover (Claire Wauthion) that surely inspired Blue is the Warmest Color‘s bedroom scenario.
“Je Tu Il Elle”
”I wrote a story that I liked,” she once told the Times. ”Everybody thought it was political. But it was a normal love story. It’s not a feminist movie. I’m not saying it’s a gay movie. If I did, then you go to it with preconceived notions.”
Chantal’s other work also included queer themes, including Les rendez-vous d’Anna, in which a Belgian filmmaker tells her mother about a lesbian affair she’s having, despite having a serious boyfriend.
“Les rendez-vous d’Anna” (1978)
Her new film, No Home Movie, is a documentary piece about her mother, an Auschwitz survivor who passed away last year. The New York Times reports that Chantal had been struggling in her grief, and “had recently been hospitalized for depression.” She was scheduled to appear at the New York Film Festival this week to talk about No Home Movie as well as I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman, Marianne Lambert‘s documentary about her work and influence.
A feminist and queer filmmaker, Chantal eschewed these labels and refused to have her work featured in LGBT film festivals, saying she found them ghettoizing. She was prolific with over 40 films to her name, and yet not nearly the household name she deserved to be. The only film she made with any mainstream success was 1996’s A Couch in New York, starring Juliette Binoche and William Hurt. Most of her work was esoteric and experimental, but it inspired many other filmmakers who have cited her as influential, including Stacie Passon (Concussion) and Todd Haynes (Carol).
If you are interested in checking out Chantal’s work, I suggest checking out her Criterion Collection. If you want to read more about her work through a feminist and queer critical lens, try Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s Identity And Memory: The Films of Chantal Akerman.