Chantal Akerman has died unexpectedly at the age of 65. Although the details are unclear, it appears that the filmmaker committed suicide.
Akerman is best known for her 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which is hailed as “the first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema.”
A native of Brussels, Belgium, Chantal Akerman was the daughter of Polish immigrants who were survivors of the Holocaust.
As reported by They Shoot Pictures, Chantal became fascinated with film production after watching Godard’s Pierot le fou at the age of 15. Ackerman was specifically inspired by Godard’s unique style, including his incorporation of pop art references and his use of creative editing.
Following graduation from high school she attended several film schools. However, she failed to complete any specific program.
Before the age of 20, the young woman began making her own independent films. Throughout her career, she produced more than 40 projects including documentaries, 35mm films, and video essays.
— PiFiZone (@PiFiZone) October 6, 2015
As reported by the European Graduate School, Chantal Akerman adopted an experimental minimalist style. Her films were generally shot in real-time and featured women coping with the “seemingly mundane aspects of daily life.”
Although her films often lacked an obvious plot, Chantal had a talent for exploring and highlighting “the troublesome complexity of human existence” in a unique and remarkable way.
In addition to women’s issues, Akerman also explored controversial topics, including illegal immigration, racism, and unrest in the Middle East.
Chantal Akerman’s work was rarely seen “outside the festival circuit.” Although her films were not readily available to general audiences, the filmmaker was often praised by “serious critics.”
In 1975, Chantal produced her most popular film — which is titled Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. The feature-length film follows the story of a widowed single mother who spends her days completing mundane domestic chores. At night, Jeanne works as a prostitute to provide for herself and her son. The New York Times hailed the work as “a seminal film of its era… a feminist landmark and a meditation on the passage of time.”
Although Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was Akerman’s most popular film, she won awards for several other films between 1978 and 2005, including a Chicago International Film Festival Award for Les rendez-vous d’Anna, a Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Award for Un divan à New York, and a Nuremberg International Human Rights Film Award for Sud.
— The Film Stage (@TheFilmStage) October 6, 2015
In addition to making films, Chantal was on the staff at New York’s City College. She also participated in guest lectured throughout the world and served on several film festival juries.
Unfortunately, Chantal Akerman’s most recent film may have contributed to her decision to end her life.
In September, the filmmaker debuted a video essay titled No Home Movie, which featured interviews with her late mother. The video specifically explored her mother’s reluctance to discuss her experience as a Holocaust survivor.
Chantal Akerman has died, but her great films live on: pic.twitter.com/ZeHpbTRPXP
— mark cousins (@markcousinsfilm) October 6, 2015
As reported by the New York Times, the film “was booed at a press screening at the Locarno Film Festival.” As Chantal was still mourning her mother’s death and emotionally drained from production of the film, she took the criticism particularly hard.
According to reports, Akerman had numerous mental breakdowns in the months following her mother’s death. Although she was hospitalized to treat her depression, her family and friends were terribly concerned.
As reported by Guardian Sylviane Akerman confirmed Chantal was released from the hospital on September 26, and passed away 10 days later. However, she did not confirm her sister’s cause of death.
In correspondence with this writer, Sylviane simply stated that Chantal was “suffering with a severe disease.”
Chantal Akerman will be remembered as a talented, and unique, artist who was a “highly influential voice in experimental and feminist cinema.” Family, friends, and fans have expressed condolences via social media. However, funeral arrangements have not been announced at this time.
[Image via Donald Weber/Getty Images]