The Meetings of Anna

The Meetings of Anna ★★★★

Chantal Akerman’s Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (The Meetings of Anna) is a fascinating portrait of a woman displaced. Her displacement stems partly from her lifestyle as a film director touring European cities in order to promote her work; but it’s equally existential, and hints at a deeper unwillingness or inability to connect with other people in ways that are anything other than transitory.

The woman, Anna (Aurore Clément), is attentive, alert, but a little bit sad; or maybe she’s tired – tired of life, perhaps. Her vocation sees her city-hop every day or two, and as she travels she meets new people, or connects up with others she has known before. She is alert to the people she meets, inviting intense confessions from them about their disappointments, without really asking for them or even caring that much. She is alert, but detached, and wears a gentle severity – not quite cold, not quite aloof, but detached and out of reach - just passing through and unwilling to emotionally connect. People sense the gap, and press her about her need to marry and her lack of children, as if these are the essential pieces needed for a woman to be happy.

Akerman’s cinema is a little like Anna the character, filmed with a slow and steady gaze. Akerman achieves this through long held, precisely framed static shots. They let us dwell on Anna’s inscrutability and puzzle over her choices. But mostly they let us watch the way others pass her by, pouring out their souls and imploring her to be happy, while being miserable themselves. The focus and contrast allows us to sense that while Anna is lonely, her detachment is also a rational choice. It amounts to a bleak but absorbing experience. It reminds me a little of the books by Rachel Cusk, which are narrated by a woman who travels, always encountering, noticing, listening, and engaged, at the centre of things and yet mostly a vessel for others – a woman who exists through the interactions that she leaves behind.

It’s only when Anna meets up with her mother, and she is back in the security of the umbilicus, that she opens up about her life and shows genuine affection. In all other cases she is functional – physically through sex, or professionally through her career, or simply as an audience waiting for time to pass. Even when she is home, it is just another pit stop on her journey.

It is an absorbing film, with plenty to chew on, and much that remains frustratingly beyond reach. There may be an autobiographical element to the film which, if nothing else, successfully deglamourizes the life of a film director. Aurore Clément is excellent as Anna. It was a lovely surprise to find her in the role, just a week after I’d seen her as teenage girl in Louis Malle’s Lacombe, Lucien. She has a fascinating face, blank but open – no wonder Akerman cast her in the role. The acting throughout is attuned to Akerman’s understated style, but it’s the precision of Akerman’s direction which I was most impressed with. I found myself being drawn in to the rhythm of Anna’s life, and the pattern of her interactions. As the film went on I felt myself get to know this private woman, and the closer I came to understanding her, the more I felt the void of her dispassion. She is a woman apart, out of reach of society’s expectations, out of touch with her home, always leaving behind the things that connect her, always alone.

Chantal Akerman Ranked

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