American Stories: Food, Family and Philosophy 1989

Histoires d'Amérique: Food, Family and Philosophy

Directed by Chantal Akerman Treasures

A poetic assemblage of monologues and daft skits form an affectionate ode to Jewish-American identity in this charming quasi-documentary from one of the most important directors of our time.

Aug 18

Hollywood Avondale

Belgium In French with English subtitles
96 minutes Colour / DCP

Director, Screenplay


Bertrand Van Effenterre


Luc Benhamou


Patrick Mimouni

Production Designer

Marilyn Watelet


Sonia Wieder-Atherton


Maurice Brenner, Carl Don, David Buntzman, Judith Malina, Eszter Balint, Dean Jackson, Roy Nathanson


Cannes (Directors' Fortnight) 2024

4K Restoration


Like most of Chantal Akerman’s films, her lesser-known American Stories: Food, Family and Philosophy is a deeply personal one. Having yearned to fill the blanks of a past that her mother – an Auschwitz survivor – left largely unspoken, Akerman was inspired by the writings of Isaac Bashevis Singer to bring the “invented memories” of her people to life. Weaving them together is a haunting score from Akerman’s partner, cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton. 

After a dazzling New York skyline emerges from the sea fog (a mirror of the closing shots from Akerman’s 1977 News from Home), the dashed dreams of its Jewish immigrants come into the present-day by way of a striking cast of actors, including seasoned theatre legends Judith Malina and Eszter Balint. In a departure from her penchant for interiors, Akerman elevates the graffitied Williamsburg streets and vacant lots to a surreal stage for breathless first-person confessions. A man laments his loss of religion and the strangeness of an acculturated generation; a woman is torn between a Jewish and a non-Jewish lover. In these glimpses of grief, longing, and alienation, all the mess of exile and migration is unsilenced with mesmerising intimacy. 

Make no mistake, this is not a wholly sombre film, and Akerman was never one to be hemmed in by singular definitions. Between these touching moments come rapid-fire Vaudeville skits: hilarious Beckettian riddles meet Yiddish songs; Woody Allen-esque back-and-forths meet religious fables. Storytelling, as Akerman noted, “has permitted people to survive history by laughing – laughing although the source is distress.” It’s this attention to both sides of the coin that makes American Stories a true portrait of a culture: bound to rituals of remembering and forgetting, darkened by trauma yet lit by the sharp spark of the spirit. — Manon Revuelta