L'Homme a la valise

Director Chantal Akerman / 1983 / France

Akerman's Man With a Suitcase, starring herself, is an unexpected mixture of Chaplinesque comedy and poignant self-mockery.

Returning home to write a film script and desperately needing the freedom of her own 'little' actions, without the restriction or the possibility of being observed, the presence of anyone else - let alone a male presence - causes a kind of paranoid frenzy. Sounds begin to take over the narrative. Able to avoid being seen by getting up ridiculously early in complete darkness, and barricading herself into her room, the only clues to one's freedom of movement and the other's whereabouts become sounds. The exasperating quality of this intrusive maleness is heard in the crunching of toast, the brushing of teeth and the slurping of a gulp of coffee. It is seen in the order of the clothes of the other and in the shaving paraphernalia that take over and encroach into her once own bathroom basin.

Finally ordering all her food by telephone to cook on a camping stove in her room, and setting up a video camera to watch the street so she can see when he is coming, the prickly isolation is complete. It is sad somehow however, and the laughs as Akerman waddles quickly up and down corridors, is 'caught' with a tray of breakfast and is seen (and even - heaven forbid - spoken to), the audience giggles as she tries to muffle his typing with eiderdowns, unable to concentrate, or as she interrupts his bath and sees his huge body... all seem to be part of a warped lack of self respect and loneliness. Akerman is poking fun at herself so fiercely that it hurts.

- Sarah Lloyd

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