Collected Works: Film
Je Tu Il Elle
directed by Chantal Akerman
A woman kneels, nude, on a mattress, clothes draped across her body. She spoons sugar into her mouth from a crumpled bag. Scored-out pages of a letter lie nearby. A rhythmic crunching sound can be heard beneath her calm, matter-of-fact voiceover. Ever since she removed the furniture, her room has resembled a cell. Her inexplicable behaviour may suggest entrapment, but she is there of her own volition. She can exit at any time. Eventually, she does, leaving the glass door wide open behind her, inviting us to follow.
Julie is the ‘I’ of Je Tu Il Elle. Each of the film’s three parts concentrates on the other pronouns in turn. While Julie’s solo performance is directed at the viewer, ‘You’, the remaining sections sees her share the stage with another individual. After leaving her room, she hitches a ride with a lorry driver, with whom she eats, drinks, and smokes in roadside cafés. In the closing act, she visits a woman, with whom she makes love. They hum contentedly, enjoying the contact of bodies on bedsheets, for their own pleasure, not ours.
The film seems to play out chronologically, but time proves slippery. Julie’s narration is not synchronised with her actions, creating a sense of disconnect between past-tense explanation and present-tense movement. She claims that she has been in the same space for over four weeks. Day becomes night becomes day, the hours melting away like the snow outside. The opening words, ‘And so I left’, seem to refer to the end of both the first and third acts. In the final scene, Julie shuts the door conclusively.
Held in suspense, we are left wishing that we could join her once more. Despondent and happy, aimless and purposeful, Julie is as hard to read as the film in which she stars. Though its title may allude to stuffy lessons in grammar, Je Tu Il Elle is far from didactic. Like the scraps of correspondence that Julie scatters about her room, it flourishes in its untidiness, its avoidance of neat resolution. Instead, we echo her feng shui, repeatedly rearranging the scenes, shifting and shunting them across the floor of our mind.
Words by Emma McKinlay
Question of the day
Marathon Man, directed by John Schlesinger. Laurence Olivier's turn as an ex-Nazi dentist keeps us on edge, as does Dustin Hoffman's bemused victim. (→)
– Hugh Maloney, Silent Frame Sub-Editor (via Patreon →)