Saturday, August 13, 2016
Chantal Akerman | Je tu il elle (I you he she)
hunger and thirst
Chantal Akerman (writer and director) Je tu il elle (I you he she) / 1975
Chantal Akerman’s death by suicide in October 2015, led me to revisit many of her films and to watch new ones, among them Je tu il elle of 1975. This film begins with a kind of reverse creation myth, as the filmed figure and narrator (Akerman herself) describes her activities for six days, as she pulls her furniture out of the small, narrow apartment she has apparently just moved into, writes a long letter—presumably to the “tu” (perhaps the film viewers themselves) of the film’s title—after which she crosses much of it out, lays her manuscript in an inexplicable manner across the floor, and almost manically spoons from a bag of sugar. At times, the narrative voice runs ahead of the visual actions; at other moments it lags behind, creating tension. As she lies on the mattress nude for days at a time, that first week gradually expanding to nearly a month, what becomes apparent is that this woman is completely self-destructive. She waits, so the narrative voice proclaims, for something to happen which, except for a passerby staring into her window, never comes.
He says very little but suggests she may want to take a nap in his bunk. Later they visit a local bar where a TV set blares out American series’ such as Cannon, whose characters, strangely, spout aphorisms such as “a child of fear is the father of evil.”
In short, the truck driver relates his own anti-creation tale, one that shall surely lead, like Julie’s own apartment isolation, to disappointment. Certainly, this man’s idea of sexual gratification—entirely self-centered—offers nothing to the world. Akerman frames the encounter so that we do not even see Julie while she is pleasuring him, her existence having been wiped out in the act.
I found the long act to be one of the most graphically loving sex scenes I have ever witnessed; the women seemed to me to be passionate in each other’s embrace, this last scene representing a true fulfillment of the hunger and thirst that Julie had imposed upon herself. Presumably, she will remain with the woman she had mistakenly left. It is clear that, at last, Julie has returned home to someone with whom she can create a life.
The closing score reconfirms this with a lovely French song, suggesting one should “kiss whom you please.”
Los Angeles, July 10, 2016
Reprinted from Hyperallegic Weekend (August 13, 2016).