– Autumn/Winter 2002

These Shoes Are Made for Walking

Bérenice Reynaud

Chantal Akerman, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, 35mm, 200min, 1975, production still. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery

Chantal Akerman, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, 35mm, 200min, 1975, production still. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery

Tap-tap-tap... Preceded by the clicking of her high heels, a young woman (Sylvie Testud) walks through the Place Vendôme in Paris, the camera following her in one unbroken shot until she reaches her car. A young man (Stanislas Mehrar) follows her, gets into his own car, and continues tailing her.

In Marcel Proust's À la Recherche du temps perdu the young woman was Albertine and the man was Marcel. For La Captive (1999), her latest narrative feature to-date, Chantal Akerman, adapting À la Recherche's fifth volume, calls her Ariane. While much has been written about Proust's driver/companion Albert, who might be hidden behind the oddly feminine name of Albertine, Ariane is a name without masculine equivalent: in Greek mythology she was the daughter of Minos and Pasiphae who fell in love with Theseus and gave him a magic ball of twine to find his way in the labyrinth.1 In ARiANE, one finds five letters of AkERmAN. From Proust to Albert to Albertine to, finally, Ariane and Akerman, there is a vertiginous interplay of sliding equivalences, of masks that simultaneously frame, hide and reveal some secret. In the film Ariane's partner, lover, captor and tormentor is named Simon, preserving the narrator's Jewishness, as well as alluding to Albertine's family name: Simonet.

In La Captive, updated to contemporary times, Simon lives a comfortable existence of homme de lettres in a large bourgeois apartment that he shares with his grandmother

  1. For all her troubles Ariane became Theseus's concubine, but shortly after he abandoned her on the island of Naxos.

  2. The name of Françoise is kept from the original novel, as well as that of Andrée, the heroine's confident who, at the protagonist's request, accompanies her in her outings, and Levy, a friend of the narrator who come to return a borrowed book.

  3. I you he she (1974), Meetings with Anna (1978), Portrait of a Young Girl from the Late Sixties in Brussels (1993)

  4. Laura Mulvey, 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', in Constance Penley (ed.), Feminism and Film Theory, New York: Routledge, 1988, pp.62-63

  5. Fort-da (gone-there) were the exclamations of Freud's grandson when throwing and recovering a cotton reel to re-enact and master his mother's departure. See Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, New York: Norton, 1961, pp.8-9.

  6. Lit: so they do it all. This is, of course, the title of Mozart's opera - an ode to sexual freedom and cynicism - that appears on the soundtrack of La Captive.

  7. Julia Kristeva, Le Temps sensible, Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1994, pp.95-96

  8. American Stories (Food, Family and Philosophy)

  9. The name given to the two schoolgirls also connotes Akerman's love of pop music. 'Michelle... Daniel...' are romantically connected by the Beatles song.

  10. The French title of the film is The Golden Eighties. However, when an earlier version of the film, Les Années 80 (1983) was released in the US, it was given the title The Golden Eighties. So the US distributor of the second film gave it the title Window Shopping, which I use in the text to avoid confusion.

  11. All in One Night.

  12. A quintessential Akerman actress, Clément was the eponymous heroine of Les Rendez-vous d'Anna (1978), appears as a singing waitress in Les Années 80 (1983), the blueprint version of Window Shopping, and plays Léa, the 'promiscuous' actress who befriends Ariane in La Captive.

  13. A similar scene occurs later in the film with another couple in another café.

  14. The destination of Jeanne and Sylvain's ritual outings is not shown, and there is an unexplained moment in which Jeanne is figured by a train, but these moments suggest an off-screen space not included in the text of the film itself.

  15. The jingle of the anklets traditionally worn by East Indian women seems to fulfil a similar function.

  16. Not recounted in Histoires d'Amérique.

  17. Chantal Akerman, e-mail to the author, July 2002

  18. From the East.