Chantal Akerman premiered her final film, No Home Movie, on 10 August, 2015, at the Locarno Film Festival, and on 5 October, 2015, she died. It has been reported that she committed suicide. Ordinarily, I'd say it would be right to dismiss that kind of detail as prurient, salacious gossip-mongering, but as a heavily-modulated autobiographical work, it would maybe be disingenuous not to read Akerman's life and personality into the film. And speaking to my honest response to the film (and what good is the critic who isn't honest?), my first thought as the movie ended was solemn comprehension that I now understood, to some degree, what drove Akerman to her choice.

No Home Movie is about loneliness, you see; and about having someone in your life who keeps you busy and maybe fills an emotional need, but being aware constantly of the great big emptiness of everything outside of that one relationship. The title is of course ironic, but it's not ironic in the obvious way; it's "No Home" Movie, not No "Home Movie". It is about the idea of "home" being a cold comfort, and of family as the people who love most that you understand least.

It is, to a first approximation, Akerman's documentary about her mother, Natalia "Nelly" Akerman. She was a survivor of Auschwitz, who ended up in Belgium where she became a wife and the mother of two daughters, and near the end of her life, one of those daughters tried to tease out the details of what she thought about life, the Holocaust, Judaism in Europe, and womanhood (Chantal Akerman offered a tremendously insightful interview with Mubi the week of the film's premiere, and it's an essential guide to what drove her to make the film as well as being a remarkable look into the mind of one of the great insufficiently-appreciated film directors of all time). And No Home Movie is kind of that. It's also a DIY record of how the two Akermans communicate past and around each other, with Chantal perpetually trying to lead Nelly into conversations that never play out, as the older woman is constantly on edge in the most bemused, loving way about her daughter's obsession with cameras.

No Home Movie is not just a film about the impulse to try to learn something more about one's mother: it's about the specific impulse to record that process, to have every element of life filtered through digital screens. Akerman filles is constantly using cameras to intervene between herself and her mother, recording on crappy little cameras and phones their conversations in person and on Skype, making for a collection of footage that's as much about the desire to collect footage as it is to depict anything in particular. The result is a slow movie full of artless shots of the inside of rooms (with a few dreamy, detached shots of the Israeli desert), carefully managed by Akerman and her editor Claire Atherton into a focused chronological march that seems shapeless and ad hoc only once we arrive at the end and discover that the whole movie has been about the process of the director retroactively saying goodbye to the mother she deeply loved and doesn't seem to have ever understood the way she wanted to.

It is beautiful in its slow sloppiness, and it would be gently depressing even if we weren't armed with the knowledge of the filmmaker's imminent death; it is a sober, ashen-faced movie, and a very powerful one. The ingredients look so simple and raw as to be outtakes or inscrutable trash, but the film made from them is a piercing, precious, and sad depiction of the human craving for family and contact.