Photo by Anika De Klerk / Unsplash

Film Review: Je tu il elle

Film Review Apr 24, 2023

by Lily Greeley

The day I really found Chantal Akerman, that day I first watched Les Rendez-vous d’Anna and was able to finally put an origin point on this point of contention within my body, something I had felt for years but had never separated from the typical depression/anxiety/adhd symptoms, was the day I found myself.

Chantal Akerman, through News From Home and the previously mentioned, ...Anna, had led me along the path to discovering something true about the innermost parts of my soul; I wanted nothing to do with the ‘masculine’ anymore, and, something that would become even more evident as time went on: I am a gay trans woman, and I want to wear that like a badge of honor, even if it means risking harassment or worse.

Filmic art, by nature, demands a certain attention of the patron given that the piece is constantly moving/unmoving, and Chantal Akerman famously had no use for the standard filmic value, or rather her contemporaries filmic values, and utilized this attention to a very particular degree. Akerman does not demand that you look for details in every frame or pace your brain for mental gymnastics, she simply asks that you be with her for a moment. A long, quiet, and very monotonous moment; but Akerman knows this stasis, this incontrovertible human dissociation, and she’s not sacrificing that stasis for any kind of motion or perpetuity---life is not that exciting.

Love, sapphic love, is an important component, loving women is a brief reprieve and a comfort. The feminine spirit in all its forms has been painstakingly emburdened and cast down into the dregs of society, and women like Chantal Akerman still expressed themselves so vivid and honest despite the irreparable damage done and done and done. Monotony is not a comfort, but its not supposed to be. Chantal Akerman is simply living as she knows, as many gay women know, as many straight women know. Chantal Akerman is living and trying to find meaning in that living, and it’s evident she helped plenty of women find that meaning themselves. Art is challenging, art is often easily shrugged off as ‘pretentious’ and ‘meaningless’ regardless of what’s being analyzed, but what art actually is; whatever you need it to be. Cliché, maybe, but frankly I hate this discussion of art as inherently requiring some level of entertainment. Art does not require entertainment, not being entertaining does not a meaningless film make. You can watch a woman eating sugar for twenty minutes naked and tell me that Chantal Akerman was not embodying something real and truthful for a lot of people or was that she was simply being pretentious, but there is a simple response to this surface interpretation of art. No. Another favorite artist, John Cassavetes, said it best,

‘I hate entertainment.’

I found myself through Chantal Akerman, and I will never have the chance to let her know how many lives she’s changed—but I feel that her films will continue to live on, because more and more I am meeting with humanity, empathy, and passion—thank you, Chantal Akerman.

Promotional image from Je tu il elle (1974). Directed by Chantel Akerman. Cast members include Chantel Akerman, Niels Arestrup, and Clair Wauthion.