Short Film: Saute ma ville, by Chantal Akerman
In 1968, at the age of 18 and six years before the release of her masterpiece, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Chantal Akerman made this short film, which announces themes and strategies she continues to this present day.
Akerman actually dropped out of film school before completing a single term in order to make it, selling stocks and working in an office to fund the twelve and a half minutes that eventually paved the way for her three hour plus opus.
As with Jeanne Dielman, intense, oppressive boredom and domestic isolation are the context for our heroine. Akerman herself stars as the principle, frenetically humming her way through a kind of manic episode. What starts as a routine evening at home descends into a frenzy; she tapes up the door to her cramped apartment, she smears and flings cleaning products with wild abandon, and she goes from shining her shoes to scrubbing her actual leg with the stiff-bristled brush.
And from Sean Gandert at Paste Magazine:
Akerman described Saute ma ville as “the mirror image of Jeanne Dielman” in which this person who doesn’t need rules to govern her own life blows its rituals to bits. But because of its end, Saute ma ville is not a description of a positive way to live life, rather than Jeanne’s existentially loathsome one. It in fact ends just as badly, with self-destruction just as inherent in completely abiding by these rules as it is in trying to destroy them.
Akerman also looks at the film as “the next generation,” where the character in Saute ma ville refuses to live the way her predecessors did and thus throws out all of these rules.
At LOLA, Jonathan Rosenbaum connects the short to both Jeanne Dielman and Charlie Chaplin:
Akerman has described her first film, Saute ma ville, made when she was only 18, as her attempt to do something Chaplinesque. I strongly suspect that she was thinking about Chaplin’s fourth comedy short made at Mutual, his justly celebrated One A.M. (1916), where, apart from a cab driver glimpsed briefly at the very beginning, Chaplin is the only actor in sight, his character arriving at his own home and proceeding to interact catastrophically with the various props he encounters as he tries to get upstairs and go to bed.
Chaplin’s narrative pretext for all the comic chaos engendered is his character’s extreme drunkenness. Akerman – whom we hear manically and wordlessly singing offscreen from the very outset, and is also the only character we see, arriving home and in her case restricting her activities there to a kitchen – provides no narrative context of any kind beyond a certain punklike rebellion against the various domestic rituals that she performs or pretends to perform. These are the same sort of rituals, such as cooking, eating, cleaning up, and polishing shoes that, seven years later, Jeanne Dielman will compulsively embrace, although in this case Akerman’s own frenzied and parodic enactments eventually culminate in a series of offscreen explosions from a gas stove that fulfill the film’s apocalyptic title. (The ‘cleaning up’ that she performs earlier is in such a destructive manner that it recalls the final sequence in Vera Chytilova’s radical Czech farce Daisies, released two years earlier in 1966, when the two teenage heroines pretend to ‘clean up’ after their protracted and extravagant food orgy inside a banquet room.)