Chantal Akerman’s rigorously observational portrait of her late mother takes on a whole new significance in the wake of the director’s own premature passing. Natalia ‘Nelly’ Akerman, who died in 2014 aged 86, was a Polish-born survivor of Auschwitz, and she had a profound influence in the direction of all her daughter’s films, including the classic Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels.
Despite its title, imploring us to see the film as more than an assemblage of private recordings, Akerman’s film is a deeply personal work, compiled from fly-on-the-wall footage captured as she leaves her camera lying around to capture daily life in her mother’s Brussels flat. As befitting Akerman’s longstanding reputation for challenging audience expectations, Akerman refuses to bow to documentary convention, placing just as much emphasis on silence and space than any of her mother’s fascinating recollections. The result is a strangely moving testament to one of cinema’s great provocateurs.