Sunday, April 3, 2011

592. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Running Time: 225 minutes
Directed By: Chantal Akerman
Written By: Chantal Akerman
Main Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte


I've been eyeballing "Jeanne Dielman..." for quite some time and with it's departure from the streaming portion of Netflix coming tomorrow, I figured I might as well go ahead and take the 3 plus hour leap and finally give it a watch. I wasn't disappointed.

"Jeanne Dielman..." is pretty easy to explain plot wise, so this shouldn't take too long. Jeanne (Seyrig) is a typical french female, who lives in an apartment with her teenage son. She doesn't work, but has a number of daily chores to keep her busy. She enjoys preparing meals for her son Sylvain (Decorte), which she puts a lot of time and thought into. She cleans, folds, goes to market and does the typical routines of a normal female. When her son is at school, she prostitutes herself to the men of France, to make a few dollars on the side. The film is split up into three days and Akerman uses VERY long takes to hammer home the mundane feel of Jeanne's life. On the first day, everything comes off like clockwork and we soon realize that Jeanne has been playing out her routine, day after day, for a very long time, as she knows just how to snap through and have it all done just as her son walks through the door at night. Day two begins, Jeanne gets Sylvain off to school, goes about her chores and errands and when her "john" arrives, they go to the bedroom. Upon their exit from the bedroom, and his subsequent exit from her apartment, Jeanne is not herself. We don't know what took place in the bedroom, because the camera confined us to the hallway, but something happened in there and Jeanne is in a definite state of disarray. She goes through the rest of the film dropping things, burning meals and totally mussing up her entire schedule.


I have a lot of thoughts on this one, so hopefully I can keep all of them in order. I'll start off by saying that I DID like the film. Granted, I did watch it in two sittings, but I managed to keep it all contained in one night (last night). I was actually very pleased with the LONG camera shots and felt that they allowed me as a viewer to connect with the main character on a bit of a personal level. We got to be like peeping toms or followers as we watched "Jeanne Dielman", peering into her life for a few days. Now, nobody ever said it was an exciting life, so we're really peering in on some mundane things, but they are things that we all do. I'm sure there are millions of Jeanne Dielman's walking listlessly through life, as they go about their daily routine with a flawless knowledge of their own goings on. Actually, and this may sound odd, but I would have preferred longer takes on some scenes and a LOT less dialogue. In fact, I felt this experimental film would've been much more of an experiment if we had nixed the character of Sylvain and just watched Jeanne, sans dialogue, go through her daily life - loneliness and alienation constantly surrounding her. However, I won't harp on that and the experiment of "Jeanne Dielman..." left me happy to be a guinea pig.

Now then, on to some interpretations. My biggest question surrounding the film is, "What happened to Jeanne when she and her second "client" were in the bedroom?" Why did she exit the room and all of a sudden become flummoxed. Here's my theory. If you look back at "DAY ONE" you notice that Jeanne lights the pilot of the stove and allows the water for her potatoes to boil as she services her first client. Jeanne says "au revoir" to her client and arrives back at the stove just in time to pour the potatoes into the hot water and continue on with her routine. On "DAY TWO", the "john" takes longer and completely throws Jeanne off of her track. The dinner for that particular night ends up being burned and subsequently Jeanne has to go the market and rush around to get Sylvain's dinner prepared. To me, Jeanne thrives on her routine and thrives on knowing how long each of her tasks take, so that she can be ready for the next one. If something comes along and ruins that routine, then Jeanne can't function. In other words, the only thing that Jeanne has left in her life is her routine and her son, and most of her routine is actually centered around her son.

I don't know, I could be WAY off on that theory, but nothing else really seems to make sense. I first thought rape, but you can't rape the willing. I guess, in the end, it really doesn't matter exactly what happened, just so we're clear that something happened to Jeanne that was bad enough (in her mind) to throw her completely off her game plan and drive her to murder. In fact, nothing in this film is REALLY important. I didn't watch "Jeanne Dielman...", but rather I observed "Jeanne Dielman...". If I didn't understand something, it was okay, because I was no more than an onlooker peering in on someone's daily life. It didn't matter that I didn't know what type of machine that Jeanne was stuffing change into, mid-film. It didn't matter that I didn't know why she didn't get paid by the woman for babysitting. It didn't matter that I didn't know where Jeanne and Sylvain were going every night after dinner. It was only imperative that I observed their life. If I were to go across the street and look through the curtains of my neighbors home for three days, then at the end of those three days, I'd surely have some questions.

For my money, something BIG had to happen in the end and it did when Jeanne plunged a pair of scissors into the neck of her third client. The whole time I was thinking Jeanne was going to kill herself and honestly, maybe that's what should have happened, because I have a feeling that this character was definitely pondering suicide as she sat alone, in the dark, at the dining room table following her murder. I liked the way the film ended too - just as it started - nothing fancy, nothing glitzy, just Jeanne sitting alone in the dark, thinking.

This film TOTALLY worked for me, but beware - you must be patient in order to really enjoy "Jeanne Dielman...". I can see A LOT of people really hating on this one and I could even see a lot of people turning it off before the end. So be don't go into it expecting too much, just go in ready to observe a very lonely french female and the telling of her downfall.

RATING: 7.5/10 Knee jerk rating there, but I could definitely see it rising as time goes by. Wouldn't mind picking this one up via the Criterion DVD release.


April 2, 2011 10:31pm

1 comment:

  1. I think your analysis is pretty good, but I have to disagree on one point. Also, one minor correction: Jeanne is Belgian, not French.

    Where I have to disagree with you is that the movie could be better without the character of Sylvain. It is Jeanne's response to a comment of his, "How would you know? You're not a woman." that provides the context for the entire movie. Also, their interaction on day 2 is crucial to advance the plot: first he tells her that her hair is a mess and later tries to convince her to alter their nightly routine, which she refuses. I'm not sure that the message of the film would be as effectively communicated without these important moments.


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