Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles ★★★★★

Better Late Than Never Film School Drop Outs 2019
Week 33: Auteur - Chantal Akerman

Weaponized boredom. Unlike many people, I'm usually hesitant to apply words like "boring" to works of slow cinema. I find for the most part that after a little time I manage to align with their pacing and become more meditative, more contemplative. They're relaxing for me, and I generally have no issues at all with "sitting through them." Now, while I still wouldn't say I had a hard time actually watching Jeanne Dielman, I believe here frustration and boredom are being intentionally invoked in a way that most other filmmakers within this style aren't doing. It's boring because it wants to be. There is nothing inherently bad about this movie invoking negative feelings; it's art meant to challenge and this film is nothing if not challenging.

The blunt truth is that a woman's domestic life is repetitive, boring, and rarely fulfilling. Akerman is able to distill this feeling -- boredom from time spent waiting is shared because she forces the audience to do the waiting. Frustration that the coffee tastes bad and needs to be remade is shared because we are absolutely going to watch every second of the coffee-making process, from beginning to end. The takes are agonizingly long and the camera never moves. It's not self-indulgence or a stylistic quirk; it's the only true way to make us feel the weight of empty monotony. Jeanne's son is her only meaningful point of human contact and he has nothing worthwhile to give; not only does he not notice the way her entire days are shaped around him, he has no appreciation. He only comments if something is off.

And "off" is what it eventually becomes, because this film is an encapsulation of the confinement of routine. By the time we join Jeanne, executing her duties efficiently appears to be the only drive she has left. This movie is also an exploration of the toll of turning one's life into a pattern and then having the pattern disrupted. It's a character study of a woman slowly deteriorating as she just can't take it anymore, and most impressively, a character study in which the character never opens to anyone. Delphine Seyrig is remarkable here; everything meaningful that we learn about Jeanne is communicated through body language. She starts to do things a little faster, a little more carelessly. There's a perfect commitment to subtlety, no big loud outpouring of emotions at the climax. It's an incredibly story that is likely to leave a feeling of emptiness when it ends. Even a few hours later, I am finding that it lingers in the mind. I expect that to be true for a long time.

I don't think I can argue against Jeanne Dielman being basically perfect. It's not what a lot of people are going to want to watch, but what it did was vital for filmmaking as an artform and I doubt it could be executed any better.

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