Chantal Akerman – Saute ma ville, 1968
Saute ma ville, 1968
Black-and-white video, with sound, 12:30 min.
Courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman, New York / Paris / London; Frith Street Galery, London
Join us for the very first black-and-white short film by one of Belgium’s most experimental and enigmatic filmmakers, Chantal Akerman (1950-2015, BE). Saute ma ville (1968) stars a young woman – played and made by an 18-year-old Akerman – who comes home, locks herself in the kitchen and becomes increasingly incoherent in her actions, a moment of cleaning lucidity disregarded… until seemingly oppressive boredom and domestic isolation take the lead and blow up her apartment.
Frenetically humming her way through the day, a young woman comes home, enters the kitchen and makes herself some dinner. What starts as a routine evening at home – filled with everyday tasks performed in a bizarre and muddled way – descends into a frenzy; she tapes up the door to her cramped apartment, she flings kitchen utensils, smears cleaning products with wild abandon and goes from shining her shoes to scrubbing her actual leg with the stiff-bristled brush. The young woman’s frenzied and parodic enactments eventually culminate in a series of off-screen explosions from a gas stove that fulfill the film’s apocalyptic title.
Beyond a certain punk-like rebellion against the various domestic rituals that she performs or pretends to perform, Saute ma ville provides no narrative context of any kind. In aligning the audience with the kitchen protagonist, claustrophobic framing manages to make the short fairly effective nonetheless. The rapid glimpses straight into the camera add to its playfulness. The experiments with asynchronous sound, mostly made up of a weird sing song, are typically sophomoric for short avant-garde films from the era. Both frustrating and soothing, these tie the film together.
Despite the formal resemblance to her famous work, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) – equally portraying a housewife in her home life unraveling astonishing results – Akerman described it as “the mirror image of Jeanne Dielman”. While Dielman was resignation, this short film is “anger and death”: this person doesn’t need rules to govern her own life and literally blows its rituals to bits. Both films attack the same problem, but in a different way, the cataclysmic explosion marking that point. Both end just as badly though, with self-destruction just as inherent in completely abiding by the rules as it is in trying to destroy them.
At the age of 18 Akerman dropped out during her first term of Belgian film school to make this film, subsidizing the costs by trading diamond shares on the Antwerp stock exchange. A bit more derivative than her later works, it clearly announces themes and strategies – lonely characters in closed spaces, eschewing music, gloomy worldview, real filming time, etc. – that she continued to develop throughout her entire repertoire. Saute ma ville was largely inspired, though, by Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierret le fou and didn’t yet have the formalist bent of her later works. Akerman even referred to this film as her attempt to do something Chaplinesque. As if acceptance of this sort of adult life can only be taken for so long before an explosion is necessary.