Bernard Zelechow: "The Formalist Film-Maker with a Subtext"



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Given her explicit silence about the shoah it is easy to dismiss attributing interest on her part in the issue particularly in movies such as Je, tu, il, elle (1974). The film superficially highlights literally sexual intercourse and discourse. In one long scene the male protagonist directs his casual female pick up in the proper technique of masturbation. She obliges more or less. An extended lesbian coupling starring the same young woman follows filling the final third of the film. These scenes are peculiarly unerotic. This was, I believe, intentional on Akerman's part. For the film's theme asserts that sexuality is the only remaining connection between persons. And sexuality fails to provide for mutuality, relationship and love. It remains a pure mechanical, mostly violent, reaction for the release of sexual energy and tension.

The title of the movie Je, tu, il, elle states the whole meaning of the film, a movie about pronouns without connectivity. The protagonists remain nameless. There are no nous or ils and elles in this work. The work expresses a world without relationships or meaning. Speech is almost entirely absent. The "heroine" represents the extremity of adolescent alienation. For much of the film she remains barricaded in a sparsely furnished room writing and rewriting a letter than is never finished and whose content remains undisclosed. During this agonizing sequence she spends most of her days and nights crouched in a corner in a fetal position or lying naked on a mattress. Occasionally she stops to eat some powdered sugar. Mostly she waits! In a casual throwaway line she announces that she waits either for God or for an unidentified other to deliver a pair of gloves. When the film concludes abruptly the viewer knows nothing more of the heroine than what one sees in the opening of the first scene. She is without identity, personal and cultural, geographic or religious.

Superficially, in Je, tu, il, elle, Akerman endows the male protagonist with more of an identity. He speaks! However, his speech is mechanical and monotonic revealing only a psychosociological generality. All the viewer is privy to is that although he is in his thirties emotionally his development is arrested in early adolescent desire. Pointedly, Akerman gives few clues to context. The time and place of the film are nowhere and everywhere.

Akerman's female protagonists generally are no strangers to the numbness and solipsism of the nameless heroine of Je, tu, il, elle. Nevertheless, in Les rendez-vous d'Anna (Calling Anna) (1978) Akerman explores the reasons for the anomie of her protagonists. The question Akerman poses for the actors is who are we? And who can we be in this postwar world? Akerman is only slightly more forthcoming about the film's meaning than in her earlier ones. Anna's alienation is acute. She chooses literally never to go home. Although she possesses a Parisian apartment, she conducts her life from hotel rooms and trains. Indeed, the whole of the film takes place in hotel rooms, and trains with only the closing shot occurring in Anna's apartment. The apartment lacks personal signs of significance. The emptiness expresses Anna's sense of belonging nowhere. The film ends abruptly with Anna listening to disembodied messages. The only apparent relationship in her life is the tenuous link to other voices on the automatic answering machine.








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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 4 : Page 2 / 8


© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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1999.12.04