A Nos Amours is a collective founded by filmmakers Joanna Hogg and Adam Roberts, dedicated to programming overlooked, underexposed or especially potent cinema. On 17 March they present Belgian director Chantal Akerman’s Je, Tu, Il, Elle in our Discover Tuesdays slot across Picturehouse Cinemas.
Born in 1950, Akerman travelled to the USA after giving up on film school in Belgium. There she quickly made a series of extraordinary films that put her on the map – taking the best of New York experimentation, and blending it brilliantly with an acute European feel for narrative, introspection and intensity of feeling. From the start of her career we see her empathising with the speed, mobility and transience of modern life, its spaces and ingrained habits – in hotels, rented rooms, urban streets – and the people existing and surviving in those all-too familiar spaces.
Je, Tu, Il, Elle (1976) was her breakthrough feature. Daringly, it is composed of long blocks of static black-and-white takes, coolly reminiscent of the films of Andy Warhol. Akerman’s patient camera documents the solitary life of a single woman adrift in an urban world. A scene of this woman, naked and alone, compulsively eating sugar, is remarkable for its intensity, as is the footage of her arranging and rearranging the meagre furniture in her apartment. She hitchhikes, and rewards a truck driver with a sexual favour. Other adventures follow.
As Andrea Weiss has pointed out, the film’s “absolutely un-eroticised lesbian lovemaking scene must be credited for its courage in 1974, especially given that it includes the filmmaker in the scene”. Akerman dares to de-aestheticise sex by making us aware as spectators of our own off-screen voyeurism. She makes use of natural sound, and never romanticises or filters what the lens sees. In the words of Judith Mayne: “One could hardly find a contemporary woman’s film more saturated with authorial signature than Je, Tu, Il, Elle.” It is perhaps the difficulty of this avant-garde re-representation of the female body that makes the film so memorable.
If you love cinema when it challenges and surprises, if you think it can say something new and lead you into an unexplored region, then Je, Tu, Il, Elle will
take you there.
90 mins. French with English subtitles.