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


Ida recognizes that she is at home nowhere. She comments sardonically that living in Germany is almost like the good old days. Sequentially and pointedly Akerman sandwiched her remarks between Anna's encounters with two German men who speak familiar German responses to the holocaust. In the first, she has a casual date with a divorced man whom she meets at her film showing. Anna cannot relate to him but she listens to his remarks about his sense of alienation. He too has a fractured identity. Incongruously he claims to lack a Heimat although he lives in the same house that served his grandfather and a father. He is unwilling to know the past apart from the fact that his father was killed at Stalingrad. He expresses a simplistic confusion of his identity and his own condition. His unreflective speech is indeed non-communication. His German may be perfect but his repression denies him an authentic self. He sees himself as a bewildered victim who seeks only the comforts of bourgeois marriage and the peace of the tomb. Anna listens silently but sympathetically although she refuses his sexual advances and leaves him.

Her second encounter occurs on the train from Cologne to Brussels. A German fellow starts a casual conversation. He is Berlin born, lived in Hamburg and in South America, Spain, and he is on his way to his sixth "home" or at least he hopes it will be, Paris. Anna compliments him on the finesse of his French. He confesses that the motivation for his linguistic prowess was his love of a French woman. Sadly, she left him for a young Swede, who was according to this fellow stronger, better than himself. In turn he compliments Anna on her French. Pointedly, although it is presumably her first language, Anna insists that she doesn't speak it well. To italicize the point, later in the film when Anna meets her mother in the Brussels Midi Station she chides her mother for her poor French accent. A judgment her mother rejects with the assertion that others tell her that she has a fine accent. In Akerman's eyes Anna's mother is paradoxically a more integrated person that her daughter despite the direct experience of the war. She is comfortable living in French. Her other-directedness signifies both resignation and relative acceptance of her place in the world. Her attitude is that complaining is useless. She is reconciled. If she is not happy at least, she is not miserable. She muses aloud that the time may have come to forgive the Germans. Anna's response, "perhaps!" Linguistically, culturally, sexually Anna knows not who she is.

The inferences we make in Les rendez-vous d'Anna about the Jewish subtext are confirmed more explicitly in Window Shopping. Anna's mother's outlook on life is the central focus of this film. A shimmering veneer of a musical comedy replaces the grim surface of Les rendez-vous d'Anna. Superficially, Window Shopping's sensibility differs radically from the earlier films as to suggest a different writer and director. This is no longer the work of a formalist aesthete. Technically Akerman employs all the devices of a Hollywood film. It has a soundtrack that parodies the soft rock of the American musical of the era and it satirizes both American sitcoms and more pointedly the French traditional obsession with the overwhelming mostly destructive desire intrinsic to romantic love. Akerman draws her picture of youthful desire as love from American teen culture, something that now affects France and also the rest of the world.

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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 4 : Page 4 / 8

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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