Nothing Happens

Chantal Akerman’s Hyperrealist Everyday

Nothing Happens

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 26 b&w photographs Published: February 1996

Author: Ivone Margulies

Art and Visual Culture > Feminist Art, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Media Studies > Film

Through films that alternate between containment, order, and symmetry on the one hand, and obsession, explosiveness, and a lack of control on the other, Chantal Akerman has gained a reputation as one of the most significant filmmakers working today. Her 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is widely regarded as the most important feminist film of that decade. In Nothing Happens, Ivone Margulies presents the first comprehensive study of this influential avant-garde Belgian filmmaker.
Margulies grounds her critical analysis in detailed discussions of Akerman’s work—from Saute ma ville, a 13-minute black-and-white film made in 1968, through Jeanne Dielman and Je tu il elle to the present. Focusing on the real-time representation of a woman’s everyday experience in Jeanne Dielman, Margulies brings the history of social and progressive realism and the filmmaker’s work into perspective. Pursuing two different but related lines of inquiry, she investigates an interest in the everyday that stretches from postwar neorealist cinema to the feminist rewriting of women’s history in the seventies. She then shows how Akerman’s “corporeal cinema” is informed by both American experiments with performance and duration and the layerings present in works by European modernists Bresson, Rohmer, and Dreyer. This analysis revises the tired opposition between realism and modernism in the cinema, defines Akerman’s minimal-hyperrealist aesthetics in contrast to Godard’s anti-illusionism, and reveals the inadequacies of popular characterizations of Akerman’s films as either simply modernist or feminist.
An essential book for students of Chantal Akerman’s work, Nothing Happens will also interest international film critics and scholars, filmmakers, art historians, and all readers concerned with feminist film theory.


Nothing Happens . . . is keenly welcome and long overdue. . . . [It] commences with an erudite and often brilliant examination of the philosophical, historical, political, and social context of Akerman’s formative work. . . . Margulies’s book is exciting both in the quality and range of her references.” — Carole Zucker, Film Quarterly

“A fine writer and a skilled and gifted critic, Margulies offers many new insights into Akerman’s important work. The readings of Akerman’s films—in particular the contextualization of the work in a wider range of frameworks—are excellent. An impressive book.” — Judith Mayne, Ohio State University

“A significant and original contribution, not just to Akerman scholarship, but to film studies generally.” — David James, University of Southern California


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ivone Margulies is Associate Professor in the Department of Film & Media at Hunter College of the City University of New York.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Chantal Akerman's Films: The Politics of the Singular 1

1. Nothing Happens: Time for the Everyday in Postwar Realist Cinema 21

Charting the Everyday in Postwar Europe 24

A Realism of Surfaces: Bazin and Neorealist Film 27

From Surface to Structure: Barthes, Godard, and the Textualization of Reality 33

Beyond Cinematic Postivism: The Antirescue Cinema of Andy Warhol 36

2. Toward a Corporeal Cinema: Theatricality in the '70s 42

The United States in Real Time: Minimal, Hyperreal, and Structural 48

Quotation Reconsidered: European "Theatrical" Cinema 54

3. The Equivalence of Events: Jeanne DIelman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles 65

Excess Description: Robbe-Grillet and Cinematic Hyperrealism 69

Bracketing Drama: The Other Scene 73

The Murder, and, and, and . . . : An Aesthetics of Homogeneity 80

The Automaton: Agency and Causality in Jeanne Dielman 88

4. Expanding the "I": Character in Experimental Feminist Narrative 100

The Lure of Center in Rainer's Work: A Cautionary Tale 104

The Eroded Index: Liminality in Je tu il elle 109

An Alogical, Fitful, Evidence 112

"Here Is": Redundant Description 118

A Mock Centrality: An A-individual Singularity 121

5. "Her" and Jeanne Dielman: Type as Commerce 128

For Example, "Her": Godard and the "Natural" Sign 131

Jeanne Dielman: An Exceptional Typicality 140

6. Forms of Address: Epistolary Performance, Monologue, and Bla Bla Bla 149

Epistolary Performance: News from Home 150

Talk Blocks: Meetings with Anna 154

Postscript: The Man with the Suitcase and A Filmmaker's Letter 161

What is Wrong with Signing? A Filmmaker's Letter 166

7. The Rhythm of Cliché: Akerman into the '90s 171

Eight Times "Oui": Singularity in Toute une nuit 173

Night and Day and Night: The Cycle Revisited 182

So Let's Sing: The Eighties and Window Shopping 185

Echoes from the East: Histoires D'Amérique and D'est 192

To Conclude: It Is Time 204

Filmography 213

Notes 215

Bibliography 247

Index 263

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1723-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1726-5
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