Saturday 12 April 2014

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles [1975]

Chantal Akerman’s audacious magnum opus remains a cornerstone for world cinema for its astounding formalism in terms of cinematic time and space, and its feminist stance. At nearly 3 ½ hours long, it documented, with uncompromising rigour, 3 days in the life of a lady, and in turn explored, through subtle, minute and seemingly irrelevant quotidian details shot in real-time reminiscent of Tarr’s works, the possible reasons for her shocking meltdown in the end. It, in fact, heavily reminded me of Haneke’s The Seventh Continent and Chabrol’s La Cérémonie in terms of their stylistic and thematic choices. The titular Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) is a beautiful 40-something Brussels-based single-mother who also doubles up as a prostitute. The 1st day showed the incredible meticulousness with which she goes about her daily activities, and perhaps represented the last day in her machine-like organized life. From 2nd day onwards, however, almost imperceptibly minor things start going wrong – she inadvertently overcooks the potatoes, regularly forgets to switch off the lights while leaving a room, and so forth. In the 3rd day the frequency and magnitude of deviations increase further – she mistimes her visits to the local bank and her favourite coffee shop, prepares bad coffee at home, etc., until the final digression, and the most significant one at that, occurs while she’s with a client, and that serves as the tipping point. The film’s austere tone, lack of background score, and a remarkably minimalist visual style marked by long takes using a static camera, were brilliantly complemented by Seyrig’s performance which effortlessly captured her character’s monotony, loneliness, increasing detachment, and gradual disintegration, and the patriarchal society she resides in.

Director: Chantal Akerman
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Avant-Garde
Language: French
Country: Belgium


Sam Juliano said...

"It, in fact, heavily reminded me of Haneke’s The Seventh Continent and Chabrol’s La Cérémonie in terms of their stylistic and thematic choices."

Very interesting comparative point Shubhajit! I would not have thought of it, but it makes perfect sense. Certainly you have written a superb piece of scholarship here on a film most consider a masterpiece.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot Sam for the kind words. Both Seventh Continent & La Ceremonie were taken to rather shocking climaxes through subtle hints & developments in otherwise mundane details, and hence I was reminded of them. Seventh Continent, of course, was much closer in terms of tone & style.