Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

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

To experience Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, in all its 201-minute running time glory, is to enter a sublime unconscious state as a filmgoer. The film presents with stark, unblinking clarity the isolated and vacuum-sealed existence of its titular protagonist, a cooking, cleaning, occasionally prostituting single mother bound by rigidity and routine. I expected the slow pace and quotidian rhythms going into the film. What I was not expecting was the devastating silence of this character's life -- not just when she's alone, but when she's also in the company of others (even after telling her son not to read at the dinner table, the silence persists). Enormous praise must go to the late great director Chantal Akerman for being utterly uncompromising in her vision of glacial anxiety. She utilizes static camerawork, long takes, spare sound design, minimal dialogue, and Ozu-esque low shot compositions suggesting a sense of objectivity in service of something bold and entirely singular in cinema. Like Andrei Tarkovsky, Akerman lulls you into a reverie and thoroughly commands the way you experience the events unfolding in front of you. There's a moment relatively later on when Dielman accidentally bumps a milk carton with a plate, and the effect of such an inconsequential incident may as well constitute a jump scare in the context of the surrounding film. And the final few minutes has to be one of the most haunting and jaw-dropping moments I've seen in quite some time. It's not a work to recommend lightly for those who look to movies simply for entertainment or thrills, but for filmgoers of a more open-minded and inquisitive variety, Jeanne Dielman is a landmark experiment in French cinema.

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