South | Chicago Reader

South

Virtually all the works of Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman are worth seeing, and her 78-minute video documentary (1999) about Jasper, Texas, is no exception. But this meditation on the American south can't be described as one of her finer efforts; so the implied link with From the East, one of her greatest films, is unfortunate. Akerman's painterly instincts are as strong and rewarding as ever, but when she tries to move beyond them the results are often trite. Akerman's theme was overtaken by a horrifying hate crime that occurred a few days before her arrival, in which a black man was beaten, chained to a truck, and dragged three miles to his death through a predominantly black neighborhood. Akerman interviews various locals about the incident (omitting her questions from the film), but apart from their defensiveness the responses are unilluminating. There's a lovely shot moving through downtown Jasper at dusk, but on the whole Akerman seems to be floundering, unable to say or reveal anything fresh about the south. When she concludes with the camera moving down the three miles of road, there's a disquieting clash between the beauty of the shot and the horror of what it signifies, but all she can do is bear mute witness to the crime.

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