PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG GIRL AT THE END OF THE 60S, IN BRUSSELS (1993) [Feature]
Belgium's arbiter of minimalist chic, Chantal Akerman, takes a leisurely stroll through the capital, casting a casual but revealing glance at adolescent anxiety and unspoken love along the way. Thumbing her nose at period authenticity, Akerman instead incites a climate of political consciousness (just prior to the May '68 upheavals) and social change using minor nuances of character, indirect dialogue and a freewheeling filmmaking style. The result is a film of surprising subtlety, intimacy and economy.
Akerman's light, almost playful tone contrasts with the sadness of the title character, fifteen year-old Michelle. Having decided to quit school, the girl sits at a train station, idly forging absentee notes, with excuses ranging from an illness in the family to her own death. She goes to the movies and succumbs with no qualms, but with no particular enthusiasm, to the amorous advances of a Parisian army deserter, Paul. They wander the streets while the camera ambles along with them, mimicking their pleasurably unhurried gate.
Akerman then abruptly strips away her characters' defences by robbing them of the insulation offered by the city and its traffic noises, and placing the couple alone in an empty apartment. In an almost plaintive scene, they dance (to Leonard Cohen's Suzanne) and then slip between the sheets. But the film's real emotional thrust comes when Michelle keeps a prearranged appointment with Danielle: clearly the true object of her affections.