An Exhaustive List of Nothing and Everything in Chantal Akerman’s Saute Ma Ville (1968)

It is fifty years ago this September since Chantal Akerman made her first film. It was a short comical fragment about distraction and suicide called Saute Ma Ville (1968). Following Akerman herself running up to her flat, the film then shows her gradually making a mess of the kitchen into which she has locked herself, taping the gaps in the door and windows ready for a slow death by gas. The screen is filled with a random assortment of objects abstractly dealt with by the manic character who may or may not just be Akerman not acting act all. Here is a list of things we see:

  • A small bouquet of flowers which are dragged up the flight of stairs and into the flat. They may have been bought in a shop or perhaps stolen from outside a stand, rather like the camera that was used to shoot this film. Or maybe they were a gift from someone rather pathetic.
  • A button for the lift reading “lift” which is manically pushed though the lift is not actually taken. The lift is then raced by Chantal Akerman running up the stairs though she loses as the lift is a lift and, being a lift, is actually faster than Chantal Akerman running up the stairs.
  • A poster on a door with an angry looking Smurf upon it under the caption “Go home!” The Smurf is actually Judge Smurf, a minor character from the cartoon series that barely appeared at all and which, when searching online, can only be found in physical toy form. The Judge Smurf may be fond of boarders and may possibly hold resentment, even xenophobia, to those who live outside of the Smurf kingdom (hence “Go home!”).

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  • Two smaller pictures to the right of the Judge Smurf poster. One is of a photograph of Akerman herself with the words “C’est Moi!” scribbled underneath, just in case the character or woman forgot whether she was playing Chantal Akerman or a performer playing someone else but who was really just Chantal Akerman performing. The other photograph is what looks at first to be a hand hanging down over a black background. It seems deathly and is probably not the hand of Chantal Akerman’s though nothing is impossible. Closer inspection reveals it in fact to be the face of a man, looking away in disgust, probably at being misidentified as a hand that may or may not have been Chantal Akerman’s.
  • A roll of dark sticky tape which is probably more accurately described as duct tape due to its colour. It is, however, too thick to be duct tape so judging from its size alone it must be cellotape. The tape is hanging from a door handle in between its use to fill the gaps in the door so that the gas does not escape. It is also used later on to seal the window though this action seems pointless.

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  • A bottle of wine which is already opened. The wine is red and is potent enough to make Chantal Akerman choke a bit and stare towards camera when drinking it. This is because the wine is red and only those of a totally psychotic disposition can drink left-open red wine and not in some way grimace through the fourth wall of their lives in despair.
  • A black mac coat with white buttons and a white headscarf. This is stored in a kitchen cupboard which is far more logical a place to keep such things than first considerations suggest as, of all of the rooms in the household, only a bathroom is liable to get you wetter than a kitchen. Chantal Akerman knows this, explaining why she dons it and the white headscarf for when she mops the floor which is covered in kitchen paraphernalia and is soaking.

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  • A box of Brio dishwashing powder. Brio the company now tend to make dishwashers rather than dishwashing powder. Chantal Akerman did not own a dishwasher in 1968 like many people, hence the box of Brio washing powder, and her primary concern, judging by Saute Ma Ville, was not to get dishes washed as quickly and as painlessly as the dramatic ubiquity of later dishwasher ownership figures would suggest.
  • A pair of black shoes and some boot polish which is used to then polish Chantal Akerman’s legs until her white socks and skin are darkened. Polishing shoes before death is a wise choice as the worst thing that could happen when someone finds your body would be for them to exclaim “Look at the state of those shoes, I’d have died of shame anyway if I had worn them in such a state.” However, polishing legs with shoe polish is inadvisable.

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  • A copy of Le Soir, the daily Belgian newspaper (written in French) with liberal leanings. Le Soir had a notably excellent crossword section in the 1960s (probably) but was also threatened with bombs for continuing to publish the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo in later years. It has not exploded yet (unlike Chantal Akerman’s flat which is about to blow up in the film).
  • A burnt bouquet of flowers. This may be the same bouquet as seen earlier in the film (along with a box of confectionaries). Both may have been a gift from some relationship and the reason why Chantal Akerman is contemplating suicide (the relationship, not the flowers themselves that, whilst rather pathetic, are charming in their own weak way). Such flowers are burnt on the stove before the gas is left to run, perhaps in an effort to die by carbon monoxide poisoning, a little like Sylvia Plath. However, a voice in the film cries “Bang, Bang!” and it is suggested that Chantal Akerman’s character, who may or may not be Chantal Akerman, has died, not through death by carbon monoxide poisoning, but by an explosion caused by the gas coming into contact with the match and stove that burnt these flowers. She is dead either way.

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