John Barlow’s review published on Letterboxd:
Three-and-a-half-hours sounds like a long time to spend watching a film that almost entirely consists of a middle-aged women taking care of her apartment and tending to people, but consider the fact that there are many war films that are that same length or longer and use their runtimes to indulge in their gritty spectacles just to make the same point about “war is hell” over and over again. Yeah, I think I’ll take Jeanne Dielman.
Anyway, snark aside, I think at the core of everything, the appeal of Jeanne Dielman… is how detailed of a character study it is. Even beyond the film’s focus on its titular character’s daily routines, the interactions she has with her son paint a good picture of what her life was like before without giving so much information that it distracts from the film’s main focus (on this recent viewing, I noticed her son saying that he wanted to kill his Dad after finding out that he has sex with her mom, probably foreshadowing the end with Mz. Dielman considering her son’s perspective). In fact, giving too much information is exactly what Akerman avoids doing, and instead leaves crumbs of information about Jeanne Dielman that you follow until the film’s conclusion, and even by then, you could argue that there are still some blanks to fill. As an example, I’ve heard some viewers think that she’s suffering while having sex with her third John and others saying that she’s finally feeling pleasure. And how does she feel afterward? Relieved? Guilty? A combination of both? Obviously, this approach does run the risk of alienating impatient viewers, but for people like myself who can get overwhelmed by films with high Ppm (Plot per minute) or Cdpm (Character development per minute), I find it to be the perfect pacing and length.
But even beyond Jeanne Dielman being an interesting character and Chantal Akerman exploring her in an interesting and satisfactory way, I think the main reason why Jeanne Dielman… the film is a lasting niche classic mostly rests on Delphine Seyrig’s performance. She gives, in my opinion, the greatest performance caught on film, and yet I’m also not surprised that many viewers highlight her when talking about the film. I feel like it’s mostly because her performance serves Akerman’s direction rather than the other way around, which makes her acting choices subtle and not read as anything emotional or technical to an average filmgoer. In Autour de Jeanne Dielman (the behind-the-scenes documentary on the film), it revealed that despite sometimes not understanding the directions that young Chantal Akerman gave her, Seyrig was still focused and determined in understanding the character and delivering the best performance she can without stepping in the way of the director. While Jeanne Dielman’s actions are very meticulous, Seyrig always underplays them creating an unassuming aura with her. I believe that’s what makes the ending so shocking to first-time viewers, despite it being clear that the character’s mentality is untangling, it never suggests before she kills her third John that she could do something like that. Even after revisiting the film multiple times, the ending still shocks me when it comes around.
Anyways, I suppose that’s enough words on one of my top four favorites.