Max Nelson is on the editorial staff of the New York Review. (May 2018)

Follow Max Nelson on Twitter: @elusivecorporal.

IN THE REVIEW

A Hard Road Home

Chantal Akerman in her film Je tu il elle, 1974

Chantal Akerman

a series of forty-five films at the Cinémathèque Française, Paris, January 31–March 2, 2018
“I don’t have an idea,” the Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman told Gary Indiana in a 1983 interview. “I have a feeling that I try to express.” But to be expressed in her films, feelings often had to first be chiseled down or left to chill.

The Chevalier of Disquiet

Fernando Pessoa; illustration by Tullio Pericoli, 2002

The Book of Disquiet

by Fernando Pessoa, edited by Jerónimo Pizarro, and translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
In 1894, when he was six years old, Fernando Pessoa invented a French literary figure named Chevalier de Pas, “through whom”—he later remembered—“I wrote letters from him to myself.” His father had died of tuberculosis the previous year. He would soon leave his birthplace of Lisbon for colonial Durban, where …

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Claire Denis’s Chemical Reactions

Juliette Binoche in Claire Denis's Let the Sunshine In, 2017

Desire is both a source of momentum for Claire Denis’s characters and a wellspring of confusion and instability. “There’s a chemical reaction between men and women,” says a baker’s wife to the young man who lusts after her in Nénette et Boni (1996), and the people in Denis’s movies often seem linked by invisible channels of longing. They smell one another, admire one another from afar, dance around one another, and in the process lose their footing in the worlds they occupy. To want to get close to another person, for Denis, is to venture into strange and unknown territory.

Brakhage: When Light Meets Life

To describe the thinking behind his films, Stan Brakhage often quoted a saying attributed to the ninth-century Irish theologian John Scotus Erigena: “All things that are, are light.” This is not a sensibility that would seem to lend itself to making home movies, and there is a disquieting tension in many of the films Brakhage made about his family during his first marriage.

Born to Sing the Gospel

Washington Phillips, circa 1950

A tone often emerges in Washington Phillips’s songs—a sense of vulnerability that undercuts the confidence his sermons project. The figures in his songs, as in many prewar gospel recordings, tend to be persecuted and burdened, doomed to roam a world of “sin and woe.” Phillips’s 78s would have been distributed specifically among black listeners, and one wonders to what extent the woeful worlds he described would have suggested the pervasively segregated and threatening one in which those listeners lived.

‘What I Couldn’t Say Myself’

Danny Lyon: Cal on the Springfield Run, Illinois, 1966

Danny Lyon has spent much of his career taking intimate photographs of marginal, working-class, and outlaw communities. Many of the most striking pictures in the Whitney Museum’s new survey, “Danny Lyon: Message to the Future,” come from these milieus. But more than the pictures themselves, it’s Lyon’s sixteen nonfiction films that show how his relationships with his subjects have developed haltingly and sometimes tensely over time.

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