“La Folie Almayer” – Chantal Akerman (2011)

(a short intro to the film – CC Strombeek october 2012)

Poetry. Poetry begins where space vibrates between words and between the lines. Space in between as drops that fall in water and not only make the lake or pond a little bigger, but also cause a growing movement on and beyond the surface. A movement that still continues when the naked eye actually no longer perceives it.

Feature film can also be poetry. From experimental visual avant-garde to the integration of poetic breaks, pauses as reflections. At some moments of this film by Chantal Akerman, these pauses are literally reflections – reflections on water in constant motion. These slow moments of stasis within the story reflect and stimulate reflection. They offer the opportunity to reflect upon what we have already seen, prepare us for what is to come, but also give the viewer the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with the film, to open up the particular story and create extra meaning.
Akerman uses sufficient openness to direct this extra significance not only in the direction of personal identification, but to touch upon human issues as well. “La folie Almayer” as a look at particles on the “human condition”.

Thus, an important theme is loneliness. Rare are the dialogues where people look each other in the eye. Often they do not even look in each other’s direction. No traditional cross-cutting from speaker to listener and vice versa. Akerman does not simply disregard traditional cinematic principles, but also transforms them into a variant that can tell more.

In the beginning of the film there is a dialogue between two men in which they are in the same setting, but presented to a totally different background. One man in front of a background of the interior, the other man against a background of nature – because he stands in the doorway. Inside versus outside, and for a moment it even seems like both are located elsewhere.
Or what about the daughter Nina who wanders through the urban night. A city in full swing, but through which she moves as if she found herself alone in the world, as if she walks through a vacuum. Afterwards, she has dinner in a deserted cafeteria where all the chairs are already upside down on the tables, while outside the city is alive.

As if she does not feel at home in her motherland, because her fatherland lies elsewhere. And that is a second important theme, influenced by the book of Joseph Conrad the film is inspired upon: East vs. West, West versus East – colonial relations and more specifically the disability to adapt to the setting and therefore not getting rooted. Or what about the fact they want to force Nina to wear heeled shoes – heels in the bush? Or the relevance of the promise “one day you’ll be rich” in a tropical forest without actively trying to achieve anything?

And now that we are talking about the forest: what a play with the contrast between light and shadow, which a subtle use of color. In many scenes Akerman lets one color dominate subtly: the green of nature, the blue of the moonlight or night, yellow streetlights, red in dimly lit areas. And those colors are often placed in contrast with the darkness of the shadow or the night. But the darkness can not chase all light or color.

And one of the nice things about the work of Akerman and this film is the subtlety with which these thoughts are created or achieved. No exclamation marks, no caps, no bold fonts, no. The silence, openness and subtlety both visually and narratively  emphasize the power of suggestion. We get a drama without big words or gestures, a subtle visual experience. A little example from the first minutes of the film: observe how minimal the basic information about “who, what, where” is given, or how beautifully a simple superposition of two words indicates that a flashback will follow. What a relief between the violent iconoclasm that surrounds us daily.

It just asks for more of that. More poetry in film, more poetry in life.


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