Title: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Country: Belgium, France
Director/Writer: Chantal Akerman
Cinematography: Babette Mangolte
A tribute to the late cinema avant-gardist Chantal Akerman, who committed suicide one month earlier at the age of 65, which stroke as a big shock for auteurist cineastes, despite of the fact that her works have never been acknowledged as festival darlings, or enticed into mainstream filmmaking. JEANNE DIELMAN is her most well-known achievement, a minimalist masterpiece came out 40-years ago, made by her at a young age of 25, Akerman is such a staunch and pioneering saboteur to subvert audience’s customary viewing experience and triumphs, which only makes us more regret about her untimely departure.
The title refers to the address of Jeanne (Seyrig)’s one-bedroom only apartment, she is a comely widow living with her son Sylvain (Decorte), now a high-schooler, who sleeps on the sofa bed in the living room. The picture runs over 3 hours, spans across 3 days, more precisely, a little longer than 2 entire days, and notably instals long static shots (through various angles) to observe Jeanne doing her daily chores in a mechanically arranged order. From day 1, in the afternoon, 3 minutes into the film, Akerman cunningly stimulates audience with curiosity through the introduction of Jeanne’s profession (conveniently she works at home), then, indefatigably details her routines, preparing her 2-course dinner, eating dinner with Sylvain, helping him with homework, reading to him the letter from her sister in Canada, then both take a mysterious night-walk outside before sleeping. Day 2, she wakes up, prepares breakfast, cleans Sylvain’s shoes, after he goes to school, she goes out to the post office, grocery, enjoys her coffee break in the bar, takes care of her neighbour’s infant, then again prepare food, welcomes a new client, it is a circle meticulously presented and purposefully defies any empathy, thanks to the retiring nature of the mother-and-son pair.
Things goes slightly different in the second circle, firstly the overcooked potato (alleged because her customer has overstayed his time) causes their dinner delayed a bit, but they stick to the routine of night-walk, and a terse before bedtime convo with Sylvain stirs Jeanne (sexual activity and pain, an awkward topic between mother and her son), then day 3, the routine goes on, but Jeanne seems to unnoticeably disquieted, being clumsy in the kitchen, maybe because she wonders why the gift from her sister still hasn’t arrived, but the coffee suddenly tastes bad, and she cannot find the right button for Sylvain’s coat, even in the bar, her usual spot is taken and is served by a new waitress, also neighbour’s baby cannot stop crying when she fondly holds her (the only time Jeanne reveals some evident emotion), there is an understated disintegration in the making. Finally, her sister’s gift arrives, but also arrives is another client, she barely have time to try the present, and a scissor is left in the boudoir. The long-awaited twist breaks out abruptly, completely terminates the experimental patience-test which meanders near 3 hours, moreover, it intrigues immensely about the rationalism behind Jeanne’s behaviour, feminist stance is an easy explanation, but, too literal, a pattern-disruption angle could be more felicitous, Jeanne is an animal of habitual routines, so is the approach towards her means of livelihood, when this pattern is steadily breached in day 3, she simply cannot take it anymore. The origin of the impulse (apart from Jeanne’s taciturn nature) can be traced back to the intangible suppression of the society unleashes on woman, especially a single-mother, Akerman scarcely shows any interactions between Jeanne and the outer world, understandably she is protective of her privacy, but the entire atmosphere is not healthy.
Some film offers a 2-hour roller-coaster ride then after that it vanishes completely, some instead lulls you into a claustrophobic snooze-fest, but if you can survive it, its repercussions can mark forever in your head, this film is a paradigm of the latter, bravo for Chantal Akerman! One final comment, Delphine Seyrig is such an mysteriously elegant actress, although most of time she has to act like a cipher in an installation, she can hold viewers spellbound, whether she is peeling potatoes, washing dishes or taking the elevator ups-and-downs.