Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

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

My month of women directors

Day 10: Chantal Akerman

Vivian Mercier once described Samuel Beckett's seminal Waiting for Godot as "nothing happens, twice." Though I know this was not extended as an explicit criticism of Beckett, if a play in which a number of strange events occur, albeit as if they were in stasis, can be described in such a way, what can we say about a film whose title is so boring we just shorten it down to the name that begins it?

To use similar terminology, shall we then say that in Jeanne Dielman, nothing happens three times, before something happens, shocking the audience into a state when they realise that something has always been happening. Something has been happening before we intruded on the title widow's life, before she helped her son memorise Baudelaire, before she made that batch of stew and potatoes. This nothing has been going on for a long time, and that in itself is something.

And perhaps that something at the end of the film is not even the first something that we see on screen. Yes, it begins with the upsets to her schedule: the potatoes, the spoon, but let us not forget that one of the first things we see is an ostensibly 'normal' housewife meeting with a gentleman caller while the camera averts its eyes from what they do in her room. It throws you off kilter right from the start, so that you always expect something to happen, but then nothing happens, until something does.

This nothing has a purpose, of course it does, and it is a credit to both Akerman and Delphine Seyrig that the nothing is so eminently watchable. It's not about how easy it is, or how compelling it may or may not be, because the life of Jeanne Dielman is not compelling, it is a drudgery defined by its nothingness.

And then something happens...

And you know it is over, nothing can ever happen again.

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