To keep things relaxed this August, we are screening Family Business for two weeks instead of one.
In an interview with Nicole Brenez, Chantal Akerman once said, “Everyone wanted to go to Hollywood. Even me.” In 1984, the beloved Belgian auteur went, and made this little-known and gently satirical short comedy of confusion. Akerman plays a fictionalized version of herself – freshly landed in bewildering, sunny Los Angeles and on the hunt for financing via a rich but elusive American uncle – with childlike grace and perfect comic timing. “Charlie Chaplin, that’s me,” she would later say of Family Business, which reveals her love of early film comedy, the Hollywood dream machine, and of underdogs.
The film also stars one of Akerman’s favorite actresses, Aurore Clément (Les Rendez-vous d’Anna; Paris, Texas; Apocalypse Now Redux) as a fellow European stranded in Hollywood struggling, to delightful comic effect, with an English audition text (actually dialogue borrowed from the script of Akerman’s next feature, 1986’s Golden Eighties). Colleen Camp (Apocalypse Now Redux, Election, American Hustle) is the Californian woman: glamorous, exuberant, and living in a world of fantasy.
As the Chantal character eavesdrops on Colleen’s swooning phone conversation with her boyfriend, a sometimes forgotten side of the Jeanne Dielman director’s work comes into relief: one that is playful and sweet, romantic and ironic. Commissioned for British TV program Visions, the short was made at a time when she was drawn to apparently light genres like comedies (L’Homme à la valise) and musicals (Les Années 80) – without ever losing her signature formalism and sense of melancholy.
“If I made comedies one after another, I would manage one day to sell tickets. I’m comic. I told you so. Comic-sad. At arm’s length, until it gets on my nerves. I carry a project at arm’s length until it gets on my nerves. Then, when the project is finished, silence reigns in the bedroom again.” CHANTAL AKERMAN
When she was 15, Chantal Akerman saw Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965) and knew she wanted to become a filmmaker. Following her first shorts, she moved to New York in 1971, immersing herself in experimental and underground cinema and learning from directors like Michael Snow and Jonas Mekas. Her Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), made in Belgium when she was just 25 years old, is now considered a masterwork of cinema, and has profoundly marked the work of Kelly Reichardt, Gus Van Sant, Sofia Coppola, Andrew Bujalski and innumerable others. Grieving the loss of her mother the year before, Akerman committed suicide in 2015.
- Credits for
- Family Business
- Chantal Akerman, Colleen Camp, Aurore Clément, Lloyd Cohn, Leslie Vandermeulen & Marylin Watelet
- Luc Benhamou
- Marc Hérouet
- Patrick Mimouni