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Still from Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984)

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Still from Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984)

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

Like is usually the case with these sorts of things, the day-to-day maintenance operations of and for the patriarchal state are performed almost entirely by women. As the subjugated, enslaved class, they engaged in the preprogrammed routinized, menial labor without which the patriarchy could not be. The entire physical and psycho-emotional substrate of the apparatus of their oppression is entirely dependent upon their daily activities. Women are responsible for all custodial, caretaking tasks in support of male supremacy: cooking, cleaning, education, rearing, procreation, sexual gratification, etc. What is more, the evacuation of autonomy, of personal time, of personal thought, with the burden of near-constant routine action, is a (the?) primary modality of patriarchal oppression. 'Jeanne Dielman' is not about revolution or the need for revolution so much as it is about the impossibility of a life devoted to a vacuous caretaking of a patriarchal regime even in the absence of an immediate patriarch. All of the men in this film are kids, johns, or shopkeepers. This is a film minutely detailing a life lived in service of petit bourgeois ideals as a means of getting by no longer gets by, starts to break down. 'Jeanne Dielman' starts out with 'Jeanne Dielman' in constant motion, continual action, performing basic household functions, taking care of her son, cooking meals, cleaning, picking up, prostituting herself to take care of the bills arisen in the wake of a dead husband's lack of earning power. One of the amazing feats of this film is to portray prostitution as just another task in an endless never-ending drudgery which pauses but temporarily from exhaustion and the need to sleep. Most of the takes in 'Jeanne Dielman' are long and are taken at table-level by a single fixed camera in a room or from a fixed position outside at roughly the same height. This makes the task, the action, central, while it pushes Jeanne herself into and out of the frame as an agent of the action. Over the course of these three days, Jeanne increasingly can no longer bear the burden of the impossible task at hand. What seem initially like patriarchy-sanctioned 'breaks for me' to have a cup of coffee or sit down once in a while are more and more moments where Jeanne can simply no longer do it. And what seem at first to be necessary chores and behavioral routines to 'get it done' seem more and more like frantic attempts to fill a spatio-temporal continuum evacuated of purpose, and increasingly full of the sloughed-off remnants of dead time, having long ago built up levels of residue toxic to any form of life. This is not body-horror, but a horror vacui of time both too empty and too full to be supported by human thought and action. Delphine Seyrig is both wholly deglamoured and fully ascendant in movie-star glory to paradoxes of a glamour previously unseen. Her profile as she sits in a chair, holding a cup of coffee, folding aluminum foil, breading veal cutlets, etc. is breathtaking in beauty and horror. Truly one of the greatest films ever made.

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