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

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

It's difficult for me to explain why certain films within the realm of "slow cinema" work so much more for me than others. That term "slow cinema" feels reductive in and of itself—how much do the likes of Chantal Akerman, Tsai Ming-liang, and Pedro Costa really have in common? On a superficial level however my response to these films is very much dependent on mood, and when I can clear my head, remove myself from the anxiety of wanting to get somewhere, and pay better attention to everything happening within the frame, it becomes a very rewarding experience.

A lot of what makes Jeanne Dielman so successful is the fluidity that it captures within its rigid shell. Still frames and long takes occupy the entirety of the film, but each passing second allows for the discovery of new details and the opportunity for a new interesting movement to occur. It weirdly manages to work in two antithetical modes. You become so familiar with Jeanne's apartment, the kitchen where she prepares food and makes coffee, the living room with the ethereal flickering light coming in from outside, the sofa-bed where her son spends each night. The longevity is truly felt, organically capturing Delphine Seyrig's performance and the loneliness of her character. But at the same time the pacing is almost brisk, creating a trance-like state where it becomes extremely satisfying watching Jeanne perform mundane tasks, framed in austere yet tantalizing compositions and aided by natural yet hypnotic sound design. It's like...ASMR for cinephiles (sorry sorry trying to delete).

Perhaps most effective is the way Akerman sinks us so deeply into this small world that subtle shifts in perspective and lighting feel monumental as a result. This can be seen in repetitive movements and actions, such as Jeanne's encounter with each client having them enter a room in visible lighting and then subsequently exiting in pitch black darkness. It can also occur in a way that re-orients our perspective. One example that stood out to me was the medium shot of Jeanne sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, I can't even describe why but it just felt so specifically different from every other shot where we saw her moving around in the kitchen. Another is the shot we see of her in the elevator going up to her apartment in the latter half of the film, which is very different from all the previous times we had seen her go up to the apartment, only being privy to a wide still shot of her walking down the hallway towards the elevator in the background.

The most significant alteration takes place in the final third of the film, and I would argue begins even before the "climactic" scene takes place. From the second Jeanne wakes up on the third day, the atmosphere feels more ominous, the mood more grim than usual. That we are allowed to finally see what happens behind closed doors feels inevitable, but that doesn't lessen the impact by any means. As Jeanne expresses herself strongly for the first time—stabbing the man laying in bed—she remains curiously obscured, only being shown from behind and at the edge of the frame, as well as through the mirror. We never get a look at her face during the incident, at least not until she leaves the room. The literal final shot is excruciating, painfully watching Jeanne sitting in the dark living room with details that feel so familiar such as the flickering light that are imbued with a newfound bleakness. Something about Seyrig's ambiguous, hard to read expression hit such a specific chord with me. It's tough to know what she's truly thinking, but it's certain that as she sits there, with her blood-stained right hand, things will never be the same.

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