Chantal Akerman, whose death was announced yesterday, was one of a small number of filmmaking masters who could be considered a great artist worthy of mention with the best of all time. Though her best known film is the masterpiece JEANNE DIELMAN, 23, QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES made in 1975 when she was only 25, she was a prolific filmmaker, often working in the medium of short films.
The following short film, J'AI FAIM, J'AI FROID from 1984 gives an idea of the new, and influential, sense of pacing that Akerman brought to her films. A filmmaker's tempo, in editing, performance and movement, is regulated by her "beats." Each filmmaker has his or her own time units. Akerman's time unit of choice, as her friend Nicola Mazzani recounted, was the breath. From Akerman's New York Time's obituary:
Mr. Mazzanti recalled asking Ms. Akerman how she had edited “Hotel Monterey,” a silent film about a Lower Manhattan hotel that she had made in 1972.
“She said, ‘I was breathing, and then at one point I understood it was the time to cut. It was my breathing that decided the length of my shots,’ ” he said. “That’s Chantal Akerman. She breathed through the films,” he said. “She was cinema.”