Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles ★★★★½

Hypnotic rhythms—doors opening and closing, lights clicking on and off, heels pattering on the floors, items fastidiously moved, removed and replaced—are so precisely constructed, that the first deviation, an un-replaced cover, becomes immediately portentous. When you tense up at the protagonist dropping a potato, you know you're seeing something special. Had always thought of "slow cinema" as something of a cinematic vegetable, something "good," without being particularly enjoyable, and with a fair share of boredom. And this being my first foray into the genre(?), it was something of a surprise to find that the 200 or so minutes mostly flew by. Still, it's not a film that's exactly easy to recommend, as descriptions of the plot (insofar as one exists) are liable to send the uninitiated into a state of catatonia; this is after all, a film in which Delphine Seyrig (as Jeanne Dielman) peels potatoes on-screen, in real time. It's also incredibly spare, consisting of various static shots connected by simple cuts, with none of the (expected) cinematic flourishes.

How then to describe the appeal of this groundbreaking film? It's kind of a cop-out to say that one just has to see it and surrender, but it's also true (a description that probably extends to "slow cinema" as a whole), since the incredible accumulation of minutiae and innumerable banalities can really only be achieved by duration, so much so that the first inkling of discontent is immediately discernible. The ending then, in light of the rest of the film, is jarring, in that it's essentially superfluous to the (non-)action. It's not the shattering of the glass that interests, necessarily, but the slow, just-perceptible spreading of the cracks. Fascinating, too, is that despite the amount of time spent with Dielman, she remains, by design, frustratingly opaque. Indeed, even "spending time" is completely the wrong phrase to use. Though we are given ample knowledge of her outer, mechanically controlled life, she seems to resist our innate voyeurism. In a way, it's like the flip-side of Rear Window—all the voyeurism with none of the "thrill" (scare-quotes because the film certainly thrills in other ways). Because of this ample space, both temporal and spatial, the natural impulse as a viewer is to project, in order to fill the void. And so we do, which puts us in a distinctly uncomfortable position where we become almost complicit in Jeanne Dielman's literal prostitution. By the third day, after the established rhythms of the first and the disturbed shifts of the second, we are finally invited inside the room. What we see take place: the pleasure of one forced upon another—well, it's a bit too close for comfort. And that's precisely the point.