Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles ★★★★★

It’s often the sign of an exceptional film when you leave the theater (or your couch) with the peculiar sensation that the art you just experienced has irrevocably disrupted your prior conception of reality. Of course, such a feeling is only temporary, but the very best works of cinema are the ones where that indescribable emotion lingers for hours, even days, afterward. To me, it’s a melancholy and almost exhausted feeling, one that – experienced at its purest distillation – often hinders me from devoting my entire emotional energy to just about anything else for the remainder of my day. For as many films as I have seen (which, in the grand scheme of things, is probably not that many compared to some), I have only experienced this afterglow effect maybe a handful of times. I want to clarify that this is not the same as being simply moved by a film; no, feeling sadness or terror or joy as the result of watching a movie is merely the indicator of a good film, and even many movies I otherwise consider masterpieces fail to provide this almost divine artistic connection. This effect I’m describing is far more disorienting and more difficult to pin down than one or two quantifiable emotions, perhaps most akin to existential dread than anything else.

I’m spending so much time and effort trying to convey such a difficult-to-define impression because, as you may have guessed by now, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles evoked this reaction from me. To those that have only read the description of this film’s plot, it may seem surprising that such a lengthy, austere work centered around a single mother essentially doing housework for three days proved to be so emotionally affecting to me. To most casual moviegoers, such a film probably sounds pretentious, boring, and something to avoid at all costs. Even amongst cinephiles, Chantal Akerman’s 201-minute magnum opus has somewhat of an infamous reputation for its uncompromising length and formality. As I write this, the most popular review of the film on Letterboxd describes it as “a boring, frustrating, painful experience of a movie that is also kind of brilliant”. While I strongly disagree with the first three of those adjectives, I will concede that Jeanne Dielman is certainly not for everyone.

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