This is an intriguing and sometimes unsettling film, directed and written by Chantal Akerman, and starring Aurore Clement.
The story follows a film-maker (Anna) as she journeys across Europe on business. Along the way she has encounters with friends, strangers, relatives, acquaintances and lovers. She listens to the other people as they tell their stories and their gossip, but she seems curiously distant and disengaged. This is a film about isolation, the personal price of success, and about the human condition in general, set against the backdrop of an economically and socially stagnant continent, rendered so by the energy crisis and its effects.
I would say that the world portrayed in this movie is dreary and impersonal, characterised by uniformity, routine and ennui. There is almost a surreal flavour at points, conveying the unnaturalness and loneliness. The relative sparsity of the dialogue heightens the unreality and the discomfort, as does the relative absence of bystanders when characters are interacting with each other.
Aurore Clement is perfect for the role of Anna. Effortlessly elegant and compelling, but possessing the ability to maintain an impassive visage, which at the same time is curiously evocative.
The impression which emerges is of people fighting against the coldness and superficiality of their lives, seeking humanity and emotional contact amongst the torpor, their discussions fluctuating between the trivial, the profound and the incongruous. This leads to awkwardness, people struggling to be natural, relaxed or expressive. Communication, or genuine communication, is difficult.
Throughout, the writer/director appears to be essaying a commentary on post-war Europe. The adults of that time are still affected by their experiences, and the legacy of, World War Two. Some of the routines and regimentation of the war, and the post-war epoch, are still evident.
Some of the unreality experienced by creative people is perhaps explored here. Anna struggles to express herself in everyday discourse, so maybe she leaves things to her films;easier that way.
The cinematography and backdrops are in accord with the general tone. Darkness, cold and overcast weather predominate, and they complement the illustrations of the grind and occasional futility of life, the feeling of being powerless and on a treadmill.
Viewing this picture provoked ruminations in me about how much has really changed since the late 1970s. I have a feeling, or more specifically a hope, that things might have changed in another forty years from now, but I fear that even then this work will have a heavy contemporary pertinence.
The dialogue sometimes hints that work blocks out, or assuages, some of our dissatisfaction or disillusionment, at least for a while. One might enquire what sort of life that is, or is that what life is actually supposed to be, all along?
We are all searching for something, usually fruitlessly. The sense of transience may persuade some that life is a series of moments, and that we must extract the maximum possible from those moments.
I wouldn't necessarily describe this as a life-affirming film, but it is one which powerfully illustrates forces and factors which we constantly need to be aware of, as they have the potential to damage us, or define us.