Chantal Akerman continues her semi-autobiographical journey as filmmaker that started with her 'New York' set of films, followed by Je, tu, il, elle, where she played the lead herself, to "Les rendez-vous d'Anna" [Eng. Title: The Meetings of Anna], with Aurore Clément starring as a young film director of a similar age to Akerman.
In a sense, Les rendez-vous d'Anna is the culmination of a journey undertaken by Akerman, both creatively and personally - her themes on living in a foreign environment, the sense of displacement it creates, and her study in isolation or self-inflicted loneliness, as response to traditional expectations that are no longer relevant (in Je, tu, il, elle) find resonance here too.
Anna, a Belgian filmmaker living in Paris, is in a German town promoting a film, and her return journey over the next two days will take her past Cologne and Brussels. Preferring the anonymity of hotel accommodation to friends' and relatives', Anna's dealings with people she meets portray a hesitance to engage beyond the necessary, whether it is with strangers for one-night stands, or old family acquaintances who want to get in touch.
During her various meetings, Anna is largely a listener, barely responding as people pour their hearts out, and her persona seems to particularly attract the talkative-types. She appears content enough, and believes she knows what she wants, never having the need to talk about herself - we get to know Anna only through the way others respond to her. The only time she opens up in person is during a bedtime chat with her mother in a hotel room, when she confesses to being in love with an Italian woman, but who has since been elusive to get hold of over phone during her journey.
When Anna arrives in Paris, she's picked up by ex-lover Daniel (Jean-Pierre Cassel), and they end up in a hotel room. After he falls ill, Anna, out of character, even attempts to comfort him. The film ends with Anna alone in her flat, listening to messages left on her answering machine. She's home..!
The film is reminiscent of some of Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders' works, in the way space and architecture is exploited to observe characters from a detached perspective. There is a lot going on in the film that surprised me retrospectively too, after reading Darren Hughes' essay. For an appreciation of the film's technical merits, you should find the insightful and well-studied piece quite helpful.
But aficionados aside, this film also affects and moves the casual viewer with its straightforward narrative and thoughtful direction, and I'm sure that is what Akerman also wanted to achieve. Those additional layers, people can discover in their own time, thanks to DVD technology. Talking of which, the collection released by Criterion in its Eclipse series is definitely the one I'd recommend, as it includes her New York films along with Je, tu, il, elle, which connects Akerman's theme and creative process very aptly. Among her early films, Chantal Akerman's Les rendez-vous d'Anna remains my absolute favourite, and is therefore Highly Recommended Viewing..!
Amazon Criterion 3-DVD Collection [NTSC]
The Nudity: Aurore Clément and Jean-Pierre Cassel
The film is also a nude-scene classic. Beautiful Aurore Clément gives an ethereal performance as the titular character Anna, and appears nude during four lengthy sequences. Most of them are formal compositions - non-erotic but sensual nevertheless. There is also brief nudity from Jean-Pierre Cassel who plays Daniel, a businessman and Anna's former lover that she turns to.