Down There (2006)

CHANTAL AKERMAN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

Original Title: Là-bas

/, 2006. , , , . Screenplay by Chantal Akerman. Cinematography by Chantal Akerman, . Produced by , . Film Editing by .

Chantal Akerman continues in her attempt to use film to make time a tangible property, pointing her camera out the windows of a Tel Aviv apartment that she has rented, the shutters pulled down to block out the oppressive heat of the Middle Eastern sun. She recalls her own News From Home as long takes observing neighbours on their balconies are followed by the occasional jaunt to the seashore when the sun has fallen a bit, and over these images are the musings of her own narration: “I’m in the habit of looking out the window, I look and I get all up inside myself,” she says.

Beginning with famed Israeli author Amos Oz, whose mother’s suicide mirrors that of her own aunt (and, sadly, nine years after this film’s release, Akerman’s as well), the famed director travels in her mind to memories of her past, her childhood and growing up with Jewish parents who had survived the Holocaust and emigrated to a new country.

In the present, she discusses her struggle trying to get work done in this place despite not feeling well, and the fears of bombings on the street that are equal to the heat in keeping her indoors most of the time.

It sounds like pretentious navel-gazing, but Akerman has always been a cinematic philosopher of the first order, who approaches all her themes in the spirit of curiosity, creating a sense of mystery with her stoic camerawork. Israel is more as a state of mind than a place for the director, even while she’s in it, a country that she mentions was almost her own birthplace when her parents were considering where to go after leaving Poland; the tiny stroke of fate that took them to Belgium instead provides the film’s concluding, devastating stroke.

Those who are not interested in films that seek to create a pure sense of art are advised to steer clear, but anyone who brings an open heart will find themselves surprised by how imaginative Akerman can be under the sparest and most contained of circumstances.

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