claira curtis’s review published on Letterboxd:
For so long, women in film were often times represented in one of two ways. As sex symbols, every inch of their bodies objectified to cater to the male gaze, or victims, incapable of saving themselves and meant to represent a plot point to enforce the heroism in a male protagonist. Even now, in modern cinema, where we see more and more women take center stage in cinema, often times, the regularity of every day life is cut to instead center on unattainable romance, theatrical action sequences, insane parties or other comedic shenanigans, or the absolute worst or best moments of domesticity.
So much about every day, mundane existence doesn’t make it into film because, quite frankly, most are seeking an escape from that mundanity through watching cinema. Chantal Ackerman possesses a true gift for turning that mundanity into something truly captivating, truly engaging, truly eye catching. Of her works that I’ve seen thus far, I find that Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles showcases this gift on a masterclass level.
Something I really appreciate about Ackerman’s direction is her intentionality with lingering shots. We, as the audience, are left set in certain places for longer than the average film would stick on, encouraging a more authentic digestion of the scene at hand. It’s impossible not to let your eyes wander the walls, the furnishings in the background.
With Jeanne, we’re provided a glimpse into the true day to day of a woman grounded in routine. Her routine is an anchor, appearing to be the only true comfort she has in a life in which she is often times only seen as a task completer. She cooks meals, she wakes her son up every morning, she cleans, she babysits, she runs errands, and she sleeps with men as a financial means to support herself and her son. In these tasks, we don’t see any self expression, any deeper understanding of how Jeanne is feeling. She makes her way through her day in an almost robotic rhythm, one task to the next in a calming lull.
As her routine slowly deteriorates across the span of the three days we’re shown, the lingering shots are all the more powerful. There’s a lot to digest in the unraveling of routine. If Jeanne isn’t a woman of routine, who is she? Who is she outside of her status as a stay at home mother? The audience is never given any glimpse into the answers to these questions because I don’t think even Jeanne has the answer to these questions. And what a terrifying realization this must be to have. As a result, the third and final day is a symphony of unease, the anxiety bubbling stronger and stronger as more and more goes wrong.
The love I now have for this film is somewhat shocking. It’s not easy to make a film of this length work in general, and yet, I found myself constantly soaking it all in and wanting more. The final hour in particular had me leaning in, unable to stop myself from hanging my mouth open as Jeanne’s day falls apart. I adore Ackerman’s work, feminist in a way that isn’t hostile or aggressive. The feminism of her work is slow to build, just as her stories are, leaving you with a lot to chew on.
A deeply honest display of life at home and a really engaging and unique addition to the “Good for Her” Cinematic Universe. Above all else, Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles is an experience over a typical watch: something I’m greatly appreciative of.