Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Directed by Chantal Akerman

Starring Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte, Henri Storck


Recently crowned best movie ever by Sight & Sound magazine, so I had to give it a shot.

Admittedly, there is something voyeuristically interesting about this. The long takes combined with dioramic, flat, Wes Anderson camera angles in rooms and hallways are strangely captivating. But the novelty wears off. Watching Jeanne eat a meal or knit or brush her hair or do dishes in real time and in near silence starts to get a bit boring. Her hard-soled shoes tapping on the wood floors is the only thing that gives any scene a sense of forward-moving time.

Jeanne is Penelope Ann Miller and part Tootsie. There is a graceful efficiency to her movement as she goes about her rigid, OCD life. And the 1/4 smile on her face as she goes about her daily rituals is creepy as hell. The physical grace to all of her movement, and that’s not only impressive work by the actress, but it also helps to keep all this menial behavior interesting to watch. Can you imagine watching an average spaz eating and knitting and reading and cleaning for several minutes at a time?

Jeanne’s life begins to unravel… But why? The second guy in the film seems to leave her unsettled, but I’m not sure I understand why Jeanne’s whole world suddenly turned upside down after presumably many years of having no problem with this daily routine. I get that the slow length of the film was a set-up for the dramatic ending, but I’m left with a bunch of narrative questions. At the end, her son comes come to a horrific scene and then she goes to prison?

Technically, the long takes are impressive, but there are other challenges. Focus is an issue on some of the deeper scenes, many of the nighttime shots are nearly unusable. The sound drops out a bit at times, a boom mike is visible in one of the outdoor shots. What’s that annoying blue light flashing through the window into the living room supposed to be? Lights from traffic?

What makes this a feminist work, exactly? Because it was made by females? Because it has a female lead? Because it shows a female character in an untraditional way? Perhaps all those reasons. But is it possible to have these things and remain feminist without taking shots at men? Jeanne doesn’t seem to particularly like men, murdering one seems to bring peace and stability to her life, and her poor son is emasculated to the point of believing that sex is bad. Can there be feminism without misandry?

A sneaky look at mid-70’s Brussels. I love the practical and dated tools and appliances inside the home, the natural and unassuming expressions of the extras, and all the vintage cars and sounds on the road.

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