At the end of News From Home, the unseen Chantal Akerman rode a ferry out of Manhattan back home to Europe.
Here, her next film, she materializes, so to speak, as the eponymous heroine (Aurore Clément), first spotted walking
in and out of an empty train terminal as desolate as a Hopper still life. A young director plugging her latest work,
Anna travels from France to Germany to Belgium, though the topography of the film consists almost entirely of motels,
waiting rooms, cabs, compartments and stations -- transitory stillness even when in motion. Akerman's first major
production, with a larger budget and a starrier cast, is just as experimental as her earlier pictures, taking the aesthetics
of Jeanne Dielman out of the household and onto a continent. Its design is peerless -- strong lines slicing into ruthlessly
frontal compositions, a symphony of doors opening and closing, graceful, severe lateral camera movements. Against
the Tatiesque landscape, Anna glides to her rendezvous with a somnambulist's drift: Helmut Griem as a disillusioned
bedmate, Magali Noël as an old family friend pouring out bitterness, Hanns Zischler as a globe-trotting fellow train passenger,
Lea Massari as her estranged mom, and Jean-Pierre Cassel as a businessman lover. Though she patiently listens to
each of their monologues, in the end Anna's fullest relationship is with her answering machine (as in News From Home,
it's a movie full of disembodied, almost incantatory voices). Her encounter with her mom, structurally and thematically
the center of the film, is the closest the character comes to establishing a connection with another person -- as they lie
in bed and Anna quietly recounts a lesbian fling, there's a sliver of hope through personal and cross-generational contact.
By contrast, her tryst with Cassel, boasting the most physical contact, is the most disconnected of her
affairs. Hugely affecting, the picture is further proof of Akerman as the ultimate dissector of '70s European dislocation,
sharper (though less well-known) than Wim Wenders.
--- Fernando F. Croce