Belgian director Chantal Akerman is dead at 65

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Posted: Oct 06, 2015 3:36 PM
Belgian director Chantal Akerman is dead at 65

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Belgian avant-garde filmmaker Chantal Akerman, whose patient, personal reflections on the lives of women made her a leading figure of arthouse cinema, has died. She was 65.

Artemis Productions in Brussels, which worked with her, confirmed her death on Tuesday but released no other details. Police confirmed Akerman's death in Paris, but gave no details on the cause.

Belgium's minister of francophone culture, Joelle Milquet, lauded Akerman for films "often experimental and without concessions," adding that her work "will have its place in world cinema."

Her unexpected death reverberated across the film world. The Toronto International Film Festival in a statement called Akerman "one of the greatest filmmakers and artists of our time."

"Daring, original, uncompromising, and in all ways radical, Akerman revolutionized the history of cinema not only with her masterpiece 'Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles' but also with the sustained urgency of her brilliance," said the festival. "Akerman created new formal languages and consistently expanded cinema's reach with her restless curiosity and willingness to wade into taboo subjects."

Often shooting in long, uninterrupted takes, Akerman — inspired as a teenager to be a filmmaker by Jean-Luc Godard — worked in fiction films, documentaries, video essays and video installations. But in myriad, sometimes abstract forms, her films were hailed for their bracing feminism and haunting intimacy.

Her landmark film, 1975's three-hour-plus "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles," depicted in real time the drab routines of a Belgian housewife forced into prostitution to make money. The New York Times called it "the first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of cinema."

Last month, she premiered her latest film, "No Home Movie," at the Locarno Film Festival. A video essay about her mother, Natalia "Nelly" Akerman, an Auschwitz survivor, the film is also playing at the New York Film Festival.

She filmed it largely in her mother's Brussels apartment, shooting their conversations together, and yielding a portrait of her mother's daily life, her mortality and her memory. Her mother died in 2014.

Memory was a common theme to Akerman's films, which included the 2000 Proust adaptation "The Captive."

While her work was often inward-looking, she also made several travelogues, including "From the East," filmed across the south in the United States.

She rarely brushed up against the mainstream, but did make 1996's "A Couch in New York," starring William Hurt and Juliette Binoche as a pair who swap apartments in New York and France.

A retrospective of Akerman's work has been running at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. She was scheduled to give a masterclass there later this month.

The filmmaker often worked as a lecturer. She joined New York's City College as a visiting lecturer in 2011.

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Coyle reported from New York.