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


Yet Jeanne's words of the annihilated spirit are not the speech of bitter resignation. Nor are her actions. Significantly, she does not express this to Eli. Instead she speaks of love touched by grace of tikun olam as words of consolation for Mado, the young woman rejected by her son Robert, a day before their wedding. She speaks of the true meaning of love. Jeanne's words of consolation distinguish love from mere desire without negating desire. Mado has loved Robert and it was not in vain. To love another, even unrequited love, adds to the store of good in the world. She assures Mado that a man will love her in a way worthy of her.

The viewer does not know whether Mado will find a man who loves her. Presumably in a comic film that end can be predicted. However, Akerman's goal is to redeem unrewarded desire, with the jubilation of authentic bourgeois marriage. Undoubtedly Akerman shares Jeanne's words. For within moments of Jeanne's rejection Eli makes off with the infamous Lilli for what will be a short three month affair. He appears again in the final frames of the film with his new French wife. Monsieur Jean appears in the finale reconciled with his wife and two daughters.

With the exception of the Jewish subtext Akerman appears to have made a conventional comedy. But the exception counts in Akerman's corpus and in the context of French cultural life. In Window Shopping, a most unpromising venue, alienation is overcome, reconciliation and mutuality become realizable existential goals. What Anna in Les rendez-vous d'Anna could not understand about her mother, Ida and their shop owner husbands is now not only understandable but presented as desirable existential precepts. Akerman presents French Jews to themselves all the while universalizing the theme. Pointedly Akerman sets these films in periods of an economic downturn. The illusion of identities based on American consumerism fall by wayside but without undermining pride in work, and the commercial spirit.

One wonders what prompted Akerman's transformed vision of existence? What psychiatrist worked his/her magic? What change of time and place? Both are suggested by the subject matter and setting for her most recent film Un divan à New York (A Couch in New York). It is her most removed from French formalism. Its sophisticated dialogue leads to the conventionally happy ending: Akerman has made a romantic comedy with a twist. The film is set mostly in New York and satirizes psychoanalysts chiefly of the Lacanian kind. The protagonists swap apartments with the young woman moving into the high tech meticulously decorated Central Park West apartment of a prominent New York analyst while he moves into her bohemian, disheveled Paris garret. She leaves behind her thwarted lovers while he leaves his morose dog and his bedraggled patients. The analyst is a repressed anal neurotic and she is an anarchic gypsy. Neither is capable of commitment. By a series of accidents she begins offering analytic sessions to his patients with great success. Her winning technique comprises of a few supportive grunts and the advise that loving your mother is okay. The analyst returns to New York to check out what is going on. He becomes one of her more resistant analysands. Nonetheless, they fall in love and eventually manage to make the commitment to one another so that the film can conclude with the audience knowing that they will live happily ever after.

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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 4 : Page 6 / 8

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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