Chantal Akerman at the Centre for Fine Arts

Natacha meets Chantal (again)

Chantal Akerman is on stage at BOZAR. The play My Mother Laughs is a poignant account of her relationship with her mother and lifts the veil on the intimate memories of the much missed Belgian director. 

The autobiographical play was written by one of Belgium's major artists, Chantal Ackerman, who died two years ago. Her radically modern cinematographic language, both raw and uncompromising, earned her well-deserved international acclaim was a major influence on some of today's greatest filmmakers, such as Gus Van Sant and Michael Haneke.

From Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), her first masterpiece, to No Home Movie, a moving documentary on her relationship with her mother, an Auschwitz survivor (2015), by way of A Couch in New York, with Juliette Binoche and William Hurt (1996), The Captive, with Sylvie Testud and Bérénice Bejo (2000), and From the Other Side, a documentary on Mexicans trying to enter the United States illegally (2002), Akerman has left us with a complex and highly aesthetic body of work that directly and almost obsessively deals with the limits of time and space.  

Yet perhaps more than anything else she comments on what it is to be human, with all the inherent complexity, suffering and aberrations of the condition. Because there is no doubt that this hypersensitive woman, with a sensitivity that was irremediably marked by the passage of time, and thus necessarily transgenerational, developed a universal language that speaks to everybody.

An emotional link that runs throughout the artist's work, especially apparent in My Mother Laughs, lends particular credence to Fritz Lang's famous and profoundly modern quote in Godard's Contempt, when he declares that "Love is not a conclusion".

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

There is a second reason why this performance is particularly promising. David Strosberg, filmmaker and director of the Théâtre des Tanneurs, asked the famous Belgian actress Natacha Régnier to play the part of Akerman. She had already worked with Akerman in Tomorrow We Move, a work the very title of which so perfectly captures the essence of Akerman's cinema that is one long questioning of time and space.

The actress first came to the public's attention in The Dreamlife of Angels, for which she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival. The exceptional range of emotions she is able to express make her the perfect interpreter of Akerman's words.

This earlier collaboration between Natacha Régnier and Akerman enabled the actress to bring valuable insight to My Mother Laughs. This is because Chantal Ackerman's work forms an organic whole as filmmaker Jonas Mekas puts it: "Her work is like a vast epic film in which a connection can be made between all the constituent parts."