Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

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

Jeanne Dielman is the rare film that makes virtually its entire intent clear within 15 minutes yet also earns a gargantuan runtime. For the uninitiated the film is more or less just a woman doing chores in real-time for three and a half hours. The pacing redefines terms like "glacial" or "meditative." Dropping a potato or nearly knocking a milk jar over might be the most exciting events that take place.

But the act of filming something imbues it with importance- we're watching it so it must matter. It functions like an anti-Roma, a film that gave domestic chores an almost divine significance. In Jeanne Dielman the daily routine of caring for a home is rarely anything but a soul-crushing act in futility. Jeanne's days, of which we see three, consist only of routines and of waiting for the next one to start. She brews coffee, polishes shoes, prepares breakfast, washes dishes, and so on. She works in silence and never for her own benefit.

Those shoes she's shining are for her son, along with the sweater she knits at night and the larger portions of the dinners she plans. He repays her with comments that must seem innocuous to him but for Jeanne and the audience they're ungrateful and almost cruel. When he sits down to a dinner we've watched her work on all day he only says that her hair "is a mess." Jeanne makes no acknowledgement of such remarks and dutifully carries on with her tasks. Slowly (really slowly) we start to see the cracks in her resolve.

Delphine Seyrig gives a performance of real power throughout but for me her strongest moment comes in one of these scenes where we see the cracks. Jenne sits down to peel potatoes to replace a set she already overcooked. She begins to peel but loses the laser focus we've come to expect, staring at nothing and sloppily cutting the potato itself before almost stopping entirely. Wordlessly, simply in the rhythm of the action and expression on her face, she's able to show this growing dissatisfaction.

Akerman's camera changes location but never moves, instead delivering only static shots from the same positions throughout. This technique gives the film the feeling of hidden camera footage, like it's inappropriate to even be watching. It seems to capture the entire existence, the entire essence of a person in "just" 201 minutes. Sure, it's conventionally boring but the cumulative effect it delivers can't be found anywhere else.

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