Hotel Monterey

Hotel Monterey ★★★

Criterion Task 2019: 24/100
Criterion Eclipse Series: #19: Chantal Akerman in the Seventies

Two things drew me to this title. First, I've loved everything I've seen from Chantal Akerman. Second, as someone who works in a hotel I have a... professional interest, let's say... in cinema that captures hotel life. But maybe, having now watched Hotel Monterey, I might replace that second point with this one: An adoration of presenting architecture in a way that its functional form loses meaning.

Hotel Monterey is a documentary, but one that is totally devoid of narrative. Certainly, there's no voiceover to give context, no interviews to present opinions, no character being followed, there's not even a soundtrack to give the viewer a sense of emotional anchor.

Heck, there's no soundtrack at all. Hotel Monterey is totally silent. Just images--long, ponderous images that have been meticulous composed--that rest statically on the screen, with the only clues that these aren't still shots the occasional opening of a door or flicker of a light. And as the same shot lingers on your screen for five minutes, you no longer see "hotel hallway," say, but instead lines and rectangles and muted colors like a Mark Rothko painting.

There are few people featured within Hotel Monterey, limited mostly to a few elevator shots and some people in rooms, though no one becomes more than a body that passes the camera. No, the real star here is the building itself, as Akerman finds some really neat places to set up a video camera to capture odd angles, interesting symmetry, odd reflections--and through this process she finds breaths of life, where an immobile building shows signs of a heartbeat. Even in the few places where the camera moves, the goal seems to be to showcase this symmetry, such as some later shots where the camera slowly moves down a hallway towards a large window overlooking NYC. She performs this move, what, four times? Each time at a different time of day (and perhaps on different floors) to give new, different ways of seeing the same physical arrangement.

Hotel Monterey is a film that requires effort from the viewer. It will not spoon feed you any kind of meaning. You have to be in what I call a "museum mindset," where you are willing to put yourself in the hands of a visual curator, and glean your own impressions from what is provided. And certainly, the "art for art's sake" impression that runs through Hotel Monterey isn't unlike walking through a museum--but unlike a museum where you chose your own path, decide how long to stare at any given painting, even this is curated with Hotel Monterey. There will be scenes that stretch on for longer than your eyes will tolerate. Some shots may even make you uncomfortable--after spending a number of minutes in an elevator, Akerman shifts the camera much closer to the elevator doors, creating a sense of claustrophobia in me--a physical discomfort that lasted until she (thankfully) moved on to something else.

People new to Akerman's aesthetic will likely be baffled by the entire experience. But this does share an interesting kinship with Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles; she uses similar static positioning of the camera to capture Dielman, it's just that here the subject is a building, not a human.

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