Les Années 80 (Chantal Akerman / Belgium-France, 1983):

The Eighties: a make-or-break time for artists, especially severe ones like Chantal Akerman, who decided she had it with idiosyncratic films nobody saw. A shift into the mainstream, then? The structure, rehearsal footage culminating in resplendent finished work, might shape a method-to-her-madness memo to studio heads handing out the funds, except this is Akerman, experimental down to her fingertips, the airy making of a musical just the natural extension of the august exploration of Jeanne Dielman. A directorial sketch book, glimpses of screenplay readings, dress rehearsals and choreography, young performer following young performer under the filmmaker's scrutiny. The lenses are on the poised women and men being interviewed and molded, though the star of the film is Akerman herself, the auteur-conductor-puppeteer-ventriloquist just out of camera range, extracting an emotion or modulating a line ("More subdued... Your mind is a blank, as motionless as you can be") -- at one key point, she jumps in front of the camera to record one of the songs, her vocal clunkiness at the mike a no less naked moment than her bodily unveiling in Je Tu Il Elle. The trajectory is the progression of art, by which the fragmented (disembodied voices on a black screen, feet in heels clicking across the floor) becomes the whole, the grain of video segueing into Minnelli luster. The elating last twenty minutes display the results, warbling in long takes at the ice-cream shop, teeny hair-salon giddiness, the shopping mall as rueful ballroom, Magali Noël at the swirling center. The MGM-dreaminess, already mined for deconstruction by Godard and movie-movie romanticism by Demy, is here a comment on society's ritualized role-playing, a continuation of the yearning musicality of Toute une Nuit, and, acknowledged over a double 360° circular pan atop a building at dusk, only the beginning: "Until next year...," to producers, audiences, fellow artists.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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