Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

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

Of the great female directors out there, Chantal Akerman stands among the most celebrated, her avant-garde technique capturing everyday life in dry, structuralist form allowing great analysis in her work and influence among other filmmakers that have adopted Akerman's methods of filming in real-time with long, stationary shots. Most of her films demand patience, and Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, a 200-minute behemoth of a film that intimidates not by excessiveness or maximalism, but crushing and extreme mundanity, deliberately monotonous in order to share in the impact that subtle cracks have in our title character. It's a film I can't really critique with a conventional approach, and the frustration incurred means its doing its job properly in exploring bored titanic emotions.

Over the course of three days, we bear witness to the daily routine of a mild-mannered mother with very little in the way of compromise. Brewing coffee, doing the dishes, boiling potatoes, acting as a prostitute to pay for the bills, all of which is presented in a way that never so much as twitches to show how severed from societal excitement and energy this widow has become, several times even staring off at an unknown distance and left alone to contemplate her thoughts. In each of Jeanne's decisions and step-by-step precision, there is the underlying hint of her need to keep things as perfect as possible, even as far as finding the exact button for a coat that's short one, and anything that's out of the ordinary would nearly suggest devastation to her needs, were it not for a virtual imprisonment to her chores and life, the cinematography following suit in its refusal to pan or tilt. A change to the grind is made, but it takes a long, slow, arduous time for such an event to occur in Jeanne's life.

With such a disinterest in narrative by way of events that act as a map of story, Akerman supplements the tedium with unspoken relationships, Jeanne and her son Sylvain eating dinner quietly and resigned day-after-day as he reads and she doesn't really raise her voice, accepting these spatial talks as just another part of each day. Twice we see her care for a woman's baby, both shrouded in just as much mystery as Jeanne's inner self, and both times Jeanne exhibits expected empathy before defaulting to the next chore and leaving the baby alone since it too can't really express a meaningful relationship in its infantile state (with the second time providing another major crack in Jeanne's life as a result of the baby's incessant crying). The adjustment to a mundane widow life has left Jeanne with a hole in her essence that nobody seems particularly interested in filling, any conversations giving way to filibuster monologues that are just as detached in emotion as Jeanne's quiet nature.

Sitting through over 3 hours of menial tasks is something I can respect out of Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, but it's not something I can openly say I love out of it. On the one hand I understand the deliberation, the need to display everything in excruciating detail to know why minor things going wrong affects Jeanne the way it does. On the other hand, the taxing, challenging experience that goes out of its way to become the antithesis of entertainment is something I can say I like, but that conclusion has the weight of pain, fleeting anger, and tedium resting on top that precludes much of the high acclaim many others see in it. I don't necessarily think of it as a hypnotic piece, or one brimming in slow doom and anxiety, but it's one that in parts I can perfectly see its intent and catch that feeling of suffocation in Jeanne's world enough to admit it earns its worth (it also doesn't help that for a film that demands your attention I had to get sidetracked with something important outside the film's world 20 minutes in, so, uhhhhhhh, that's on me more than anything). A landmark art film to say the least, and one that finds a unique way to become "something I've genuinely never seen before in another film".

louferrigno liked these reviews