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Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
(1975) - Directed by Chantal Akerman
Slow Cinema / Slice of Life
"Making love, as you call it, is merely a detail."

This is probably one of the most controversial movies in the critic vs. common man debate: a two-hundred minute movie about an average woman doing average household chores over the course of three days. There are defenders of the faith of Jeanne Dielman, and there are deniers of the false goddess that is Jeanne Dielman. If there ever was a movie that needed an acquired taste or a specific audience, it's Jeanne Dielman. And what with its newfound place as the crowning artistic piece of BFI's new Sight and Sound top 100 of 2022, the discussions will be more ferocious than ever. Some attribute this newfound glory to the movie's recent accessibility to streaming, while others associate the choice to a feminist message. But we are not here now to debate the cause of the position. We're here to see whether or not it really does deserve to be there.

Jeanne Dielman is considered the crowning achievement of female directors worldwide for its accurate portrayal of the housewife and her daily chores, but the movie also gives us little hints detailing her eventual breakdown and drastic actions in the third act, as the monotony of life has finally cracked our leading lady. We see three days of her daily routine as she waits for a present from her sister, starting with an evening with a random man, and this routine continues until the big twist at the end.

By the way, I am happy to claim ownership of the first review of this film on Movieforums. So without further ado, KeyserCorleone's Review of Jeanne Dielman, also titled I Am Woman, Don't Hear Me Roar for 3 Hours.

Because this is an artistic attempt at capturing the full "women" of the time, our director Akerman has no problem with drawing out full scenes of dishwashing, shoe-scrubbing, dinner eating and non-erotic bathing followed by cleaning the damn tub. This is all in an effort to capture the full essence of "boredom," which is a seriously risky move. On the one hand, the fact that the audience is desperate for something to actually happen obviously mirrors Jeanne's desperation. On the other hand, the haters are in part justified because this is a risk so great that it's bound to draw even some experienced critics away. The most exciting thing to happen for the first hour-and-a-half is a conversation with an offscreen woman concerning what meat to buy.

However, it can also attract the critics with the fact that, technically speaking, there seems to be nothing wrong with the technique itself. That's where I think they may be wrong. This is slow cinema. I cannot help but compare this to my two top picks for slow cinema moviemaking, my singular SC five-star, Satantango, which clocks in at 7 freakin' hours, and the Tarkovsky runner-up Stalker. Both movies have the cameras move in specific ways that capture entire landscapes and scenarios which go hand-in-hand with the storytelling and theme. Here we just a house, and it goes hand in hand not by creative choice but by the obviousness of the setting. And honestly, I was no more amazed by this house than I was by a friend's house when I was a kid. And I can't remember one moment where the camera was doing nothing but staring with an angle good enough to work. It's not BAD cinematography, since it gets the job done, but it's not AMAZING. It's only bold in the same way that a hidden camera is. If we're looking into her life, then I'd like to look around the house the way I typically would, and I know I wouldn't stare at a woman cooking. I'm sorry, but 90 degree angles can pretty much always make everything that needs to be seen be seen in the long run. At least Wes Anderson was able to tweak things around by applying these strict angular rules and captured The Grand Budapest Hotel in a unique fashion.

I suppose you could try and guess what Jeanne is thinking whenever she finds a moment to be alone, or read or eat or do something else. But I didn't feel like any emotion was captured in those kinds of scenes, or at least not in the same way that the scenes lacking dialogue in Once Upon a Time in the West did by centering on the characters' faces. In fact, the acting talent required for this movie didn't seem high. It seems par. I mean, for a movie about slowly going insane, I have a plethora of movies to compare theme delivery with, and they usually pertain to the acting quality of the person going insane or eventually breaking down. We don't really get scenes of "acting" often in this movie, rather than just going about everyday life with little dialogue necessary. In fact, I believe that the best example of the test of patience and the attempt at reading poor Jeanne's mind is during the third act when she's sitting on an armchair for a couple of minutes, leaving us to wait for an answer. But we get none. We get the uncomfortable awkwardness of silence. That makes it either really boring or really intriguing.

But this doesn't mean there aren't a few strong points. On the second day, we see Jeanne forgetting little things and walking around the house with a slight sense of confusion, and thus the second day becomes a little more interesting than the first, meaning the entire middle act now has a stronger storytelling basis. But you might miss this kind of thing if you're not seriously devoting attention to it. Even earlier on, Jeanne's actions can give us little hints toward the final breakdown in the end, such as the aggressive method of cleaning a pair of shoes. This means we're getting close to the breakdown, giving us a message that we shouldn't force anyone into monotony. In fact, once we have a serious heart-to-heart about a great secret that her son has, we realize something about Jeanne's adultery, and wonder exactly how it plays into day three? As she's going about her chores in day three, we can only wait and see what's going to happen. In fact, the third act is easily the slowest and the most testing of the whole movie, especially after that short, short free time she gets.
You'll know that scene when you see it.

Now I may not be a woman or a housewife, but don't ever let it be said that I don't understand the grueling effects of monotony. I quite my first job at a plastic food company after two months because it was more monotonous than monotony allowed. Not only did I have to just pour wet plastic into molds and wait for them to cook all the time in a lonely corner full of constantly turned-on ovens, but if the painters messed it up, which happened often, then I had to do it all over again. It was pretty horrible for me, and I almost considered killing myself because that was the best damn job I could get at the time. Believe it or not, I am much happier as a cashier at Dunkin' Donuts where I can chat with customers, offer recommendations and communicate with my co-workers. And because we get a bunch of new people every week and new stock every couple months, it never gets too monotonous. Jeanne Dielman is very relatable to me. But nowadays I still have variations on my daily routine, and so I can safely say that Jeanne is somebody I can grant honest sympathy towards, even as a fictional character because she is an accurate caricature of someone who, while I've never been this person, can grasp the pain of for having lived variations of it. And I also know what it's like to be criticized for something superficial like gender or race or age. Put the two together, I could NEVER live as a 70's housewife. If I were a woman, I'd Catherine Called Birdy the hell outta Dodge.

You could potentially call this a "minimalist" movie. However, that feels kinda off since this "minimalist" movie has a maximalist runtime of 200 minutes. Now that may not seem maximalist, but the slow cinema artstyle makes it feel the same, and the very idea is to test the patience like playing the album Panopticon by Isis three times. There is one thing I can say about Jeanne that is a valid criticism concerning the slow cinema genre in general: compared to Satantango and Stalker, Jeanne Dielman isn't doing much to capture the visual artistry which often goes hand in hand with the themes. Literally everything about Jeanne Dielman has to be purely average, as the theme is average living, and thus the statement is nothing more than a visual recreation of something that technically anybody can think of.

In other words, it usually feels like a movie anyone can make at home. Maybe they need the right film equipment first, but everything else is purely average. But if this constitutes as fine filmmaking, then ANYBODY could write this. They could just jot down three days of their life and end it with a "shocking twist" and play it up a little throughout the movie.

Well, it's time for my final consensus. After one of the longest reviews I've ever written for anything, I can safely speak my true feelings about this, and pick my stance on who I view is right about Jeanne Dielman. Drum roll, please, Nyangostar?


The movie is technically good, but it's also overrated. Every aspect of the movie works well together, but as they stand alone, they're only either on par or decent. So, no. I don't think this movie holds a candle to the two Agnes Varda movies I've seen so far, Cleo from 5 to 7 and Vagabond, which capture womanhood well enough but still balance out social themes with experimental technique. However, the movie does have its standout features which are all built for the purpose of creating hatred for monotony, and as a result this sympathetic movie ends with a bang and a cliffhanger. There is a lot to take from this movie, as well as a lot to discuss and theorize (this is the benchmark for the grand reception of various artistic films, notably 2001: A Space Odyssey as the very first movie that comes to mind). I admit that I was getting more excited for the infamous twist at the end as the movie progressed, so there's a definite positive.

BUT, and this is a big but... while I'm aware that most people want to cut to the action, since this is slow cinema I want it to cut to the philosophy. Philosophical discussion is the benchmark of movies like Stalker and Werckmeister Harmonies, and while there was philosophy in this, I don't really feel like the hyper-slow scenes on monotonous daily life captured the whole of what it means to be stuck. I think things would have been more interesting if Jeanne had some girl friends come over more and the discussions took some interesting turns. that could provide a lot of insight into the mind of a woman, while Jeanne gets bored with the same old discussions being talked about, like the behavior of their husbands or politics or anything else that can help an aspiring filmmaker to fully capture the essence of humanity, even if Jeanne was to maintain her typical robotic resting face through the conversations. I'm certain Chantal Akerman could have done it, and I would have loved to see that. In fact, that could've made Jeanne Dielman one of my favorite movies. But, we got what we got, and it isn't a terrible thing. But this flower didn't fully bloom to me, despite the fact that I'm very happy to have crossed this movie off of my to-do list due to the reputation it received on the new BFI Sight and Sound Poll.

Well, as the movie was a very long passion project by Chantal Akerman, this is my longest review and I deem it a passion project just for the sake of thoroughly examining one of the most talked about experimental movies on filmbuff forums worldwide. I am confident in this review, am very proud of what I wrote...

And I hope I didn't bore anyone.

= 68/100