kevin white’s review published on Letterboxd:
Full disclosure: I did not watch this in one sitting; however, I did watch it in one day, so that's something.
I knew very little about this going in, because I mistakenly believed there wasn't much to know. I knew we watched Jeanne Dielman doing things around her kitchen— perhaps never leaving that single location. I thought it was three and a half hours of housework followed, perhaps, by a mental break.
But Jeanne is busy! She leaves her kitchen, and she even goes outside. She runs errands! She goes out to eat! She even... uh, entertains guests! Settling into Jeanne's routine is easy because she makes it look easy, even when we know it's so very hard.
The cracks start to appear on day two: a forgotten light switch; a misplaced lid; overcooked potatoes. Her son, who arrives nightly from a foreign university, says little until the end of the night when he asks about his father, who has been dead for six years. It's after this first night that things begin to decline for Jeanne, perhaps out of guilt or shame or fear or lust or some indescribable combination of raw emotions. And on day three, the sound of birds, symbols of death.
Chantal Akerman juxtaposes carnality and banality in such a way that's both jarring and unnatural. The low mechanical hum of the elevator subtly intrudes on Jeanne's kitchen routines — is someone coming to see her? — until coffee no longer tastes as it should. Something has soured, whether it's the milk or something else. Better to dump it out and try again. A hypnotic light display in the window keeps time, but time is barely noticed. A baby appears as a distraction, but only briefly, and it's sometimes a misery. Boiled potatoes and missing buttons were never so dramatic.
I'm of two minds on this, and I can't get into either of them without spoilers, so I'll save it perhaps for a re-watch down the road. There's an obvious darkness that casts itself over Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, but I haven't decided what form, exactly, that darkness takes. Perhaps it's both, or something else I haven't thought of yet. Guilt and fear, shame and lust. Loneliness, definitely. Jesus, what a film.