I met Chantal in a bourgeois high school, where we both got up to no good. 1 We felt ill at ease there and we would often play truant to go to the movies. We would head into town, and it was in a tiny downtown theatre that we saw Pierrot le Fou (1965).

We also went to the Cinémathèque, swallowing their three screenings up a day. We would hitchhike from Brussels to Paris to go to the theatre. We went to the festival of experimental film at Knokke, where we watched films while lying on the floor and drinking milk. We were astonished that there were no plots and we told each other that we wanted to make movies. We enrolled in a film school by cheating on the entry exams – well I cheated, at least. Chantal helped me on the maths, which I was hopeless in.

We didn’t like film school and left it early on, each following her own path. We would meet to go to the movies.

Chantal made Saute ma ville (1968). I can’t remember what I made while there. Then Chantal made Je tu il elle (1974). I was the one throwing artificial snow out the window.

I went to say hi to her in America. In News from Home her mother says, “Marilyn will bring you money.” We went across the United States in an old truck with some runaway teens and celestial tramps.

We wrote a script together and we went to see an important producer. Because he didn’t have any time for us, we created Paradise Films. At the time it was easy: there were seven of us and the company’s capital was 175 euros.

It was in this joyful chaos that we made Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (1975).

The stories of our films merged with the story of our lives. We had fun, we travelled the world to go to festivals, we met amazing people who become colleagues and friends – like Alain Dahan and Huub Bals.

One evening in Paris, we were at Joe Allen’s with Delphine [Seyrig] and Sami [Frey].

One evening in Valladolid, we had a meal with [Raùl] Ruiz and Otelo de Carvalho. Another evening in London, we dined with Chris Marker.

Some emotional images that are not in the films: we went to meet Aurore [Clément] at Essen railway station the day before shooting began on Rendez-vous d’Anna (1978).

One of my favourite memories of working with Chantal was the time we went looking for costumes for Histoire d’Amérique (1989) in the closets of old actors.

Chantal chose her collaborators intuitively. We lived with great freedom to do what we wanted, we felt carefree, a bit like pirates. We lived dangerously, Paradise Films had many highs and extreme lows, and it was very dear to us.

I can’t say that I produced Chantal’s films. I simply wanted the films to be made. We took risks on every film.

It is a life story, caught up in different movements, with hellos and goodbyes. It lasted 35 years.

With Chantal, everything seemed so easy. For D’Est (1993), we went from Brussels to Odessa by car. Sometimes we drove the whole day without shooting anything. Then, all of a sudden, she would say, “We’re getting out” and she would direct one shot. It is only now that I realise this. She used to say she was lazy. She had a joyous energy and a phenomenal capacity for hard work.

Translated by Daniel Fairfax.

 

Endnote

  1. In the original, “on a fait les 400 coups”: a common French expression used, of course, by Truffaut for the title of his debut feature film (translator’s note).

About The Author

Marilyn Watelet began in Belgian television; in 1975, with Chantal Akerman, she created Paradise Films, where she remained until 2011; later worked as a location manager, assistant director, production coordinator and producer on more than thirty fiction films and documentaries, while teaching at the INSAS (the École supérieure des Arts du Spectacle) from 1992 onwards. She has also worked on her own documentary films (including Fin de Siglo and École 27) since 1994.