If Michel Gondry's Thorn In My Heart, his little-seen 2009 documentary on his family, can be accused of self-indulgence and having little appeal to those whose surname isn’t Gondry, it is a mainstream blockbuster to Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie.
atching Akerman’s mother Natalia slowly fade does indeed tug at the heartstrings, particularly so knowing that Akerman herself died only last year aged sixty-five, but the Belgian director makes it as difficult as possible to keep frustration and boredom at bay.
et entirely in her mother's Brussels apartment, Akerman's rough-and-ready no-style style of long shots of backs of chairs, watching her mother shuffle back and forth through the crack of a door, reading a magazine, and letting the camera roll on endless inane conversations fail in stir any interest. One long grainy, handheld scene at night shows… well, nothing. Sometimes there are long stretches of Natalia shuffling about off screen. In her defence Akerman does warn that this is the way things are going to pan out by opening with a five minute shot of a tree blowing in the wind. Maybe it was ten minutes. It felt like ten minutes.
here is a loose structure at play, however: the repetitive shots of the garden which slowly falls into disrepair from neglect mirrors Natalia's decline, and at times there’s an attempt to put the audience in her shoes with handheld POV scenes (moving about the apartment, of the street outside) that tap into the loneliness and isolation an elderly person experiences over time. But while that have made No Home Movie a more immersive experience, Akerman is caught in two minds if to go down this route or not. She backs off, preferring an observational distance for the most part.
kerman is after real life, real scenarios (one terrific but typically lengthy scene has Akerman and her sister try to engage their mother in conversation so she won't drift off to sleep) and so whatever unresolved issues the director has with her mother ("She never really talked to me," she says at one point) is not fully addressed. Just like real life, No Home Movie dances around confrontations with Akerman instead allowing to her mother to reminisce about her handsome father and feminist mother.
hat might be reality and honest and true but it sure doesn’t make for a gripping film.