jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
One of the most challenging films, one of the most demanding films, one of the most frightening films, one of the most rewarding films; I've had the Blu-ray for this for almost a year – several times, I've thought about watching this behemoth but turned around half-way because I got too afraid but now I realize how foolish and idiotic that was: this is one of the greatest works of art ever made, a film that proves several things – entertainment in Cinema isn’t defined, filmmaking rules are meant to be broken – but also, more importantly, proves Chantal Akerman as one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time. Each of her works is a personal exploration, a revelation, a revealing and vulnerable journey – this may be the best example of her films.
While it is initially daunting (the rumors about this being a 3.5 hour film about mundane activities is enough to make people uneasy), Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles earns its runtime because of what Akerman establishes with her main character: Jeanne’s life is based on routine, a routine that’s structured around the “housewife” idea – waking up, getting dressed, bathing herself, cleaning her apartment, getting food for dinner, preparing dinner, and making sure she mothers her child; she has sex with men to help provide some money for her and her son and Akerman makes that feel completely normal, too: it’s all in the structure of routine she creates – and what we see throughout these three days are draining.
Akerman makes use of the runtime because after each day, we begin to see Jeanne unravel and spiral out of control – simple tasks, like cutting potatoes and cleaning the house, begin to feel haunting and unnerving: every bit of “normalcy” we see in the first day is unraveled compared to the second and third day: through her use of mise-en-scene, Akerman’s film makes simple mistakes (dropping food, forgetting to wipe a counter, running out of yarn, etc) feel like the end of the world; the film is so established in Jeanne’s usual routine that anything that is wavering of that structure feels so alien – it's an incredibly hypnotic and intoxicating film in that we’re so engulfed in the landscape of the film or the character study of Jeanne Dielman where, like our main character, we feel trapped in this routine. The walls become comforting but only because we’ve become adjusted to it; the soup they eat looks appetizing but only because we’ve become adjusted to it; the sex is appealing because we’ve become adjusted to it. Akerman has created a film so immersive, that it doesn’t reveal pleasures, but the numbness of life: everything that looks beautiful is revealed to be mundane
Akerman said she made Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles as “a love letter for my mother” and I think that this is a pretty touching and revealing notion about Akerman and the film. The one thing I noticed is that Jeanne’s name is only mentioned in the film once: perhaps Akerman is stating that once a woman has a child, she’s no longer Jeanne but Mother. Everything Jeanne does in this film – in some fashion – is due to her wanting to provide and love her child; Akerman is therefore commenting on her own mother’s sacrifices (which makes this a wonderful companion piece to her other masterpiece News from Home ) through Jeanne’s life: the sacrifice in her giving up a life in order to raise a child and have them experience the joys and energies of life, leaving her to be trapped within the confinements of a shrinking apartment. We only see the sex at the end of the film – Akerman is commentating on the identity of motherhood and what the children perceive when observing their parent – and she kills the suitor afterwards and sits in the dark: an alienating and horrifying ending to an incredible film.
More to say, but yeah, incredible film.