1977 was New York’s year in film. Between “Annie Hall” and “New York, New York,” cinema’s two unabashed New York-lovers, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, both released their love letters to the city. That same year, Belgian experimental filmmaker Chantal Akerman (“Jeanne Dielman”) released her ode to the city: “News from Home,” shown Wednesday at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in a new 16 mm print that made its American debut. “News from Home,” simply enough, is 85 minutes of Akerman reading aloud letters sent to her from her mother when she lived in New York in the early 1970s. Essentially, we read what she was reading. And we see what she was seeing, too. Each shot is a meticulously crafted slice of New York life.

Akerman’s New York is far from idyllic. Rather, it’s cold and empty. Its residents seem unwelcoming and always on the move. Akerman was all of 21 when she moved by herself from Belgium to New York. For a young woman alone in its streets, the expanse of New York is at once captivating and terrifying. Akerman refuses to romanticize. She is documenting. From the first shot of the film, a narrow corridor only slightly wider than an alleyway, with an occasional pedestrian or car passing, it’s clear that Akerman wasn’t living as a tourist in the city. She was, instead, a quiet resident, observing the character and characters of the “real” New York. At times dark and eerie, and at times whimsical, Akerman shows us the daytime (and occasional nighttime) New York of Sidney Lumet and Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee.

The letters from Akerman’s mother are our only characters. Each letter reprimands Chantal for not immediately responding, describes some bit of minutiae in the older Akerman’s everyday life, or requests that Chantal spend some of the money she has sent. Time seems to slow as the film progresses, with the space between each letter widening and widening. Towards the beginning, the letters come frequently and her mother’s nagging is, frankly, annoying. And yet, as time passes, we begin to miss the letters. The New York scenes can grow so repetitive, or even mind-numbingly boring, that we begin to cling to something new. For a later portion of the film, in which Akerman is driving along the coast of Manhattan, looking inward to the city, seconds, minutes, hours seem to pass until when we next hear from the mother. Perhaps, for Akerman, the thrill of independence died after a few weeks or months, and the painstaking ache for contact from loved ones grew and grew.

To the extent of determining whether the film captures Akerman’s experience in New York from 1971 to 1972, “News from Home” is impossible to judge. The film is miniscule in its aim — to capture one person’s emotions and city experiences over the course of year — yet could stand in to represent the New York immigrant artist experience of the 1970s, or perhaps even the entire immigrant experience. And yet, it never seems like a complete depiction of her time there. Where does she live? What does she do daily? How do people treat her?

In the film, everyone is going somewhere — walking, driving and riding the subway. We rarely see a destination, a place where people have arrived. Even Times Square — the ultimate New York tourist spectacle — is reduced to its corresponding subway stop. Perhaps this is how Akerman perceived the New York experience — always on the move, never stopping at a destination, only endless ambition. Whether that determination is to be respected or detested is never addressed. The experience is left up to endless interpretation, but only Akerman knows the answers.

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