One Shot is a series that seeks to find an essence of cinema history in one single image of a movie. No Home Movie (2015) is showing on MUBI in the United States in the series Remembering Chantal Akerman.
“I want to show that there’s no distance in the world. You are in Bruxelles. I am in Oklahoma. But there is no distance.” This is Chantal Akerman’s explanation to her mother, Natalia, as to why she is recording their Skype call on a DV camera. Two such interactions are featured in No Home Movie, and both are composed in a similar manner: Akerman’s handheld camera is positioned at a high angle above the laptop screen, upon which Natalia, slightly blurred by digital noise, appears in tight close-up. Akerman could have recorded the conversation in the form of a direct screen capture, but instead she chooses to depict the technological apparatus and the cluttered table top that surrounds it: assorted objects such as a pack of American Spirit cigarettes, an external hard drive, a notepad, a pair of sunglasses and headphones form a border around the laptop screen. Although Akerman’s stated intention is to illustrate that “there is no distance in the world,” her framing complicates this claim, creating a physical gulf between the viewer and the face on the screen. The Skype call facilitates a connection between the domestic spaces of Chantal and Natalia as they are separated between Oklahoma and Belgium, but this is only a dissatisfying simulacrum of physical presence. During the second call, Natalia underlines this fact by telling her daughter, “when I see you like that I want to squeeze you in my arms.” The tension between intimacy and distance embodied by this image forms the thematic backbone of No Home Movie. Akerman’s relationship with Natalia is framed in terms of shared political displacement and trauma communicated across geographical and generational barriers. Intertwining the personal and the political, the autobiographical and the collective, No Home Movie uses the familial relationship at its centre as a prism through which the issues of collective history, remembrance, and alienation may be explored. Combining material archival records (photographs, Skype calls, domestic spaces) with abstract records (direct testimony and verbal recollections) enables Akerman to contemplate the mechanisms through which our relationships with others and our relationship with the past are mediated. The camera itself plays a role of major importance in this study; it is at once an instrument of communication and obfuscation, able to build a bridge between the self and other while also keeping the other at a remove by virtue of its very presence. The issue of how this paradox may be navigated lies at the heart of Akerman’s filmmaking project.