Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

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

Chantal Akerman can be considered one of the greatest filmmakers on the strength of this film alone. So many wonderful writers have already said so much about Jeanne Dielman, so instead I'd just like to make a statement about our dear late Chantal, one of my favourite human beings.

Certainly one of the most strict of cinematic separatists and not by way of showy rejections of commercial compromise or forced intellectual individuation (though arguably the greatest of all feminist directors in every sense), set apart rather insofar as an environment seems to have determined her as opposed to the reverse. There is an honesty here that makes a lot of kindred film style feel ersatz or plainly experimental. With much address to fellow countrywoman Luce Irigaray, Akerman doesn’t just seem to be exploring her medium but exploring inner space, indoor space and internal space, showing us our immediate domestic worlds and then our fragile beating hearts in the middle, sans succour. Her first sprouting of playful, angsty energy is called Blow Up My Town (1968), in which an indoor space has constructed a being whose sum response is to explode. The gloomy, silent, melancholic landscape of Hotel Monterey (1972) is tense and stifling, like some late night poltergeist CCTV recording, potentially moreso given the added choose-your-audio benefits of home viewing. It’s in this geographical climate her subjects are incubated and the degree of control they assume is unclear. Of this conundrum, surely Jeanne Dielman (1975) is the masterpiece. The housewife of the title has all the exuberance and nuance of a microbe, and yet her impeccable ritual becomes transfixing, as if the cinematography and even we as an audience are bound by the same physical law. In the end, is this a display of ‘freedom’ or ‘empowerment’ in the Bovary/bovine sense, or something far more tragic? As Akerman’s oeuvre develops, it becomes disturbingly apparent that this inhabitant, whether a filmmaker in Le Rendezvous d’Anna (1978) or much later herself in Là-Bas (2006), is really just Akerman - female, queer, Jewish, artist, who would not be defined in any totality by these terms, nor by her bleak surrounds. Depression is always present but a depression that has fuelled an entire originary cinema unto itself.

After some frothy 80s pop-experiments, D’Est (1993) marks a return to personal filmmaking. Ostensibly she is revisiting her roots in a kind of moving photo album across Eastern Europe and Russia, but through her cinema of isolation - long (to mean both distant and lengthy) tracking shots, a subdued diegetic soundtrack and the expressions of a people dispossessed – the images resonate a gloomy social oppression. Take for instance the shot of the lonely woman in her home, a trope familiar to all followers of Akerman, in which she plays a record, slices bread and sausage whilst wearing a designer tracksuit. Music, food and clothing, her beige prefab apartment, all genuine pleasures from a forgotten ‘folk’-oriented age that have been packaged and marketed as hollow reproductions to an individual who is anything but fulfilled. While the cinema of Eastern Europe has largely fashioned itself on comments against its discombobulated governmentality, Akerman brings her own unique voice to level a pictorial critique not only at a society out of balance but once again at the human subject out of touch with itself. Truly minoritarian, like Duras, yet utilizing film form far more cannily, Chantal’s acumen proves the consolations to be had through the artistic process, which ends in exhibition and hopefully a reappropriation of similar kinds of selfness.

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