Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

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

Part of End of the Semester Epics

Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a mammoth undertaking that surprisingly is not the least bit boring in its portrayal of mundanity. It feels like a giant dare, challenging its audience to keep their undivided attention focused on this film for its 3 hour and 21 minute runtime. With no soundtrack and minimal dialogue, the film portrays the average daily activities of a living stay-at-home mom who makes some money on the side providing sexual favors for anyone who will ask, and of course through the occasional baby sitting job. Our stalwart protagonist will do just about anything to sustain herself and her son, but these seemingly abnormal activities are shown as the standard parts of this protagonist's day.

Akerman's epic also revels in long, unbroken static shots of Jeanne performing the simplest of tasks: taking a bath, cooking dinner, kneading meat, going shopping- there are a myriad of standard activities that fill up almost the entire runtime, yet the way that Akerman portrays these activities is far from dull. One would think that almost three and a half hours of unbroken static takes of a housewife performing her everyday duties would get sorely boring after the first hour or so, yet Akerman sprinkles some sort of magic over the entire film that prevents me from becoming the least bit disinterested. Something about the set and the scenery just keeps us entranced the entire time, and we find ourselves genuinely interested in the daily routine of this seemingly ordinary protagonist. Each day that Akerman portrays in this character's life varies a little, in the subtlest of ways. Whether she meets a new client or even just goes out for a little change of scenery, there's always something different each day that provides the little variety that Jeanne is allowed in her life.

Of course, you didn't really think that this film would be all about 72 hours in a standard house mother's life, did you? No, not at all. There's a certain tension that looms throughout the film that gradually builds up. Naturally, its presence is neither indicated nor acknowledged, yet a close enough observation of the film's buildup would be enough to display its telltale signs. Jeanne doesn't appear to be the happiest person in the world, she seems content to retain a staunch blank face that the audience finds nearly impossible to read. Is she truly content with her life? Is she depressed? Is she stressed? Is she suffering? We never really know, as Akerman doesn't give us any real deep observations into her psyche. We don't really need to know, in the end. This is simply a film where the audience, as usual, is the observer. We are simply flies on the wall of Jeanne's apartment, watching her live out her life that is as ordinary as any other stay at home mom's. That's the brilliance of Jeanne Dielman. It rejects any standard notions of action or suspense in favor of a straightforward yet brilliant re-enactment of the average housewife, with a shocking buildup for needed variety. Akerman's mission to create an epic about nothing succeeds in every way imaginable; a truly unique piece of cinema that is unlike anything I've ever seen, akin to Andy Warhol's Empire. This is an undeniable masterpiece that is a challenging and rewarding piece of art, sweet and sublime in its atmosphere and pacing.

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