Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
This review contains SPOILERS!
I once heard someone comment on Gus Van Sant's Pamle d'Or winning film "Elephant". They said thusly: "this [movie] could be retitled 'People Walking Down Hallways'." Indeed, the film does seem fairly bland and when you add the Beethoven music, the long pauses, and the odd seemingly homophobic comments, the film can be a bit too much to chew. Yet, if there's any film easier to hate than "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" I would like to hear what it is...and this movie should be titled "Watching A Woman Walk Around Her House Doing Woman Things".
Without going into the different films that you could or could not hate, I justify my statement with the evidence of the film—it's really long. At three and a half hours long, it anticipates the works of Michael Haneke and bring the artistry and the frustrating trouble with long takes to fruition.
Told over the course of three days, "Jeanne Dielman..." is the story of a woman and her housework. As crass as that sounds, that's the impression that we get within the first twenty minutes, even the first hour. Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig), mother and widow, likes her routines. Filling every spare hour with some activity, inane or purposeful, the only moment that Jeanne has to herself is when she has her coffee in the afternoon.
The first day establishes the routine. Jeanne spends her day cleaning up around the house, making sure that everything is precisely in its place and turning out all the lights when she leaves the room. Making sure that every door is closed and every drawer is shut, Jeanne seems just a wee bit obsessive compulsive. Her son, Sylvain is at school all day and is probably oblivious to the fact that his mother receives men at night time.
A very tidy prostitute, she has sex in exchange for money—that's the fact that is unavoidable. She might be neat and orderly, but she does engage in prostitution.
The camera lingers for long pauses. We see mundane activities carried out to the most minute detail. We see the small expressions change in Jeanne's face from day 1 to day 2. We see her be patience, be organized, get frustrated, start losing control of the situation, and eventually we witness acts of very restrained madness. The static shots are what you will either love or hate about the movie.
I'm unsure whether the film is commenting on the rigors of being a stay-at-home mother or just the self-inflicted pain that can arouse with heavily structure routine. Either way, the film is very unflattering to both Jeanne Dielman and does not approve of her actions. Instead, it views her with an unsympathetic lens and a perhaps giddy pleasure as her world starts to become disorganized.
The second day brings the small things that make worlds of differences. Because we have approximately an hour for each day, it's impossible to escape noticing the small gestures that change from the first to the second day.
Lights get left on, the tops are left off of jars, door are forgotten ajar, buttons are undone, items on the shelves don't line up exactly, potatoes get burnt, and a hairdo becomes messy—these are things that we all have to deal with daily; but Jeanne is so structured that this is a huge shock to her.
As the day goes by quicker and the shots are simultaneously longer and shorter, we enter the third day. Standing on the verge of something, the viewer doesn't feel any suspense , just a latent sense of curiosity; but by the end of the third day, your mind will be racing trying to come up with theories, justifications, and the answer to the question that many people will ask: why?
Praised as being a feminist masterpiece, the importance of "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" stretches far beyond the gender of its title character and its director, Chantal Akerman. For those who think the film is about female empowerment, I don't agree. What makes the film great is how much faith Akerman places in her audience. She knows that we will pick up on the little differences from day to day—we will have some form of dread in our stomachs.
Yet this is a drama and nothing else, completely devoid of sentimentality. The dryness of the film is what soaks the viewer into it. It does become immersive and it does become slightly repetitive. If you're wanting to pop a bag of snacks open and watch an entertaining movie, steer away from this.
Still, "Jeanne Dielman..." exemplifies what's good about movie making—it can make you think.
The unexpected turns hit you like a punch in the face and then the movie takes one last, long look at Jeanne. We are left wondering what happens to her.
The film is very strong in character development and proves that dialogue isn't necessary for the viewer to comprehend everything. The spoken word's power is questioned in the film.
The conversations seem odd, the movie drags at points, but in the end it is a fully realized work...and one that demands the most respect one can give.
Posted by Micah Jones