What are your thoughts on the experience that is, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles?
I first heard about this movie in an interview with Harris Savides. He noted the film as an influence on his work and in his colloboration with Gus Van Sant. I can see how Van Sant would use this film as a reference and although it’s more of a cinematic exercise, there is power in it’s simplicity. Because of the way the film is presented, EVERYTHING holds weight – everything holds meaning. Any deviation from what has been meticulously established becomes a glaring neon sign. In this regard, it’s a science of subtlety. I’m not sure this is a movie I could watch once a month for the rest of my life, but it’s definitely a film that could be a huge influence on my own work.
Now that this has been released in the U.S., I hope more people will see this film. For people who have seen this film, how did it make you feel? What emotions did it evoke?
The film is a great demonstration of how to build tension.
I agree with these statements by Savides and Doinel, the film is one of the finest examples on hyper-minimalism on film, and those who find the concept of focussing on the nuances of the ordinary bewildering should start with Víctor Erice´s “Quince Tree of the Sun” in order to understand what the concept is all about. The framing and compositions in Jeanne Dielman are also meaningful, and Akerman perfectly suceeds in depicting an overly structured and repetitive world in order to deconstruct it in the climatic final scene. There are few if any films comparable to Jeanne Dielman, but one can find parallels to some of Edward Yang´s earlier works like “That Day on the Beach” or “The Terrorizer”. It would be great if more viewers will suceed to leave behind the celerity and emptiness of modern day viewing experiences in order to engage in the slow.moving cinematic worlds of directors like Yang and Akerman, since it´s definitely a concept not exclusively for an art circle audience, but for everyone interested in understanding everyday life.
What I really appreciate about this film is the influence that it has with more mainstream (or well known) filmmakers and how these filmmakers infuse elements of Jeanne Dielman with their own sensibilites. Gerry is an obvious example and while it’s a different kind of film, you can see the melding of Van Sant’s approach to filmmaking with ideas coming from Ackerman’s work. I find this marriage to be extremely successful and I love seeing that in cinema. I love seeing the blending of approaches – or more appropriately, the reinterpretation of an established approach to ones’ own work.
I haven’t watched the bonus material on the Criterion DVD yet so hopefully this question will be answered but I’d be curious to know what lens they used on this film and if indeed they commited to this one focal length throughout (it certainly appeared that they did).
Not only does it have its own bold timescale, i found it also quite a beautiful film, in unusual pastels. That repetition of course makes a point on the lives of many women but it’s not feminist in any anti-male way, it has tremendous dignity and we feel for Jeanne; the horror is more touching for the brevity and understatement of the moment in comparison with the time we’ve spent with her, and the lack of hysteria that follows- her silent expression, a terrible resignation of having sunk. It overturns the usual priorities over what is considered important on screen
I have to say I didn’t see the ending coming. Her behavior is pretty consistant throughout with maybe little cracks here and there. But generally speaking, it never felt like she was devolving into madness. You never really saw her express resignation – I got the sense that this was just who she was (or who she had became). As she stated to her son, sex is merely a detail and love is inconsequential (which I found to be wholly telling in that she defines her life as simply a series of details). So the ending to me became all the more a shock and I think probably a shock to Jeanne as well. Since she finally acts out against those details, against those methodical elements in her life. But then of course after the act, she behaves very much like she would prior to the event. There is not chaos, there is no emotional outbursts, or erratic behavior. There is simply Jeanne.
Well, the way it was presented i didn’t see the ending coming either, it was all so mundane and orderly- but i did have a little fore-knowledge, as it was a film i’d wanted to see for ages.
Yeah, thank God I didn’t know anything about it. I think had I known the ending, it would have been a different experience for me. Honestly, all I knew was that it was about a woman and her mundane life. So watching the film I expected it to end the way it began. I was not expecting a climax (or event) at the end at all. So the end was all the more powerful to me.
Criterion called it “A singular work in film history…”
This is one of many historical “one -offs” such as Terrence Malick’s Day’s of Heaven (a must see) and Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano (a must read).
Akerman herself referred to the singular-ness of it when she said in a January 16, 2009 NYT phone interview: “I sometimes think I should have made it after many other films, at the end of my career.”
It is an example of something I believe: An artist needs to know, by way of their creation, they are alone in the world.
I need to watch it a couple of more times before I can fully wrap my head around it but I’m not sure i would agree with the notion that Jeanne descends into madness at the end. I don’t really have an alternate analysis, I just think it’s more complex than that. I also knew the ending before I watched it and I’m actually glad I did because it put everything she was doing into a different context. Not that I saw every scene as a prelude to the end but that it made every scene a bit more strangely sad.
An amazing film.
The structure of the film conforms with some minimalist precepts. The minimalist maxims in the visual arts are: primary structures, multiple repetitive units, and randomness.
If you bend those around to the film, you get:
primary structures = parent child
multiple repetitive units = her day
randomness = the violence
So I am saying that the bedroom scene is random, which means the film isn’t building to violence. I think people are making too much of the daily order of her life into being ominous. I think that is hindsight (or reading the others notes).
“I think people are making too much of the daily order of her life into being ominous.”
I would agree that the daily order isn’t ominous.
Nonetheless, I did wonder during the film if I ever fold anything – and no, I don’t !
Haha. The dropping of the kitchen utensil felt like a nuclear explosion. Oh, for anyone who cares, Akerman’s acclaimed documentary From The East comes out on DVD in November.
Drew Bump hint hint
It’s in my queue. I’ll be back as soon as I’ve seen it. Thanks to you glorious bastards for the recommendation.
I need to take out my contacts because my eyes are killing me, so if I someone else said what I am about to say, I apologize. I can’t read very clearly.
I just watched it for the first time and I was pretty blown away. It is probably the most unsettling movie I have ever seen. Seriously the first scene where she truly gets frazzled just sent a shiver down my spine. Every little thing she does perfectly. When she folds clothes or sheets it is absolutely perfect and smooth. All her motions just flow consistently, to the point where she is a robot, but then randomly we see signs of a human inside of this machine. I’m not talking about later when she starts to crack, but how she is dying for her son’s love, and how she really does want to visit her sister. After awhile we just know something is bound to happen. And every little top she doesn’t put on the pot, or every potato she burns frightens us because we know she is close to breaking down. No one can live like she lived for very long.
What do you all think of the end? I was a bit surprised she did what she did instead of snapping in a more “normal” way like actually showing some emotion.
Once again I apologize for my sloppiness, and I will return and read all of the comments later, and most likely add more.
The ending was a complete shock to me. I had no idea it would end that way at all. In fact, I didn’t expect much of a climax at all.
“There are few if any films comparable to Jeanne Dielman”
I’d have to say that The Seventh Continent isn’t very far off at all, in fact it’s structurally almost identical and, in my opinion, shares many of the same strengths and suffers from the same flaws as Dielman does.
I agree that there are similarities with The Seventh Continent since both films focus on the banality of daily life as well as the attempt to escape from it. The main difference may be that the climatic scene of The Seventh Continent is played out much longer and goes into detail.
I think that the repetitive order of her chores does build up tension leading to the climax, but only in creating the context of loneliness and alienation that permits it (the second scene with the baby is especially disturbing). SPOILER I think her enjoyment of the sexual act prior to the violent climax is what actually triggers it, because it is what ultimately breaks the calm predictability of her world and makes her vulnerable to “the sword that had been plunged deep into her”.
Interesting conclusion ralch, there is no way to know whether that sex act was any diffrent than any other. She does control the situation through
the exchange of money.
Yes, but that’s where the director as manipulator comes into play, by shutting the door on us and not letting us see except the routine transaction (devoid of any emotion) afterwards. Instead, we get to see her downfall at the end. I think that all the allusions to sex are significant and integrated in the overall statement.
I was thinking about the scene in terms of the veracity of her orgasm – it wasn’t exactly an earth shaking loss of control – not the ‘epileptic fit’ kind of orgasm a woman can reach – but Chantal could have her had multiple orgasms to indicate loss of control
I think the loss of control is there, but just enough to make it known without losing the viewer’s carefully maintained attention. If Akerman had asked Seyring for a more “orgasmic” reaction, the flow of the scene would have been altered and the desired effect would have been too obvious (and thus, the violent act less unexpected). However, in the scene it’s evident she is struggling, as she is trying to push the guy (the client) away and immediately succumbs to the pleasure and covers her face with the bedspread.
I see your point – if she had a really great orgasm she might want to go again for free !!
As I have said, the violence is the randomness necessary to complete the minimalist maxims
But that is only my perspective…
My point is more along the lines of “Akerman is way too good an artist to fuck it up with cheapness”.
If there was one thing that I truly enjoyed about Jeanne Dielman, it would have to be Ackerman’s relentless sound design. Visually, she locates each shot around the waist or table height. The camera does not move. Despite all of this stillness, the power of the repetition comes through, because Ackerman is willing to emphasize every detail of movement with almost seismic sounds. The moving of a blanket, or the closing of a cabinet brings the focus not only in to Jeanne’s routine, but the unmitigated organization of her life and mind. The placement of physical objects in her house, and the time structures that she abides by, apparently day in and day out, are reinforced by the fact that Jeanne lives in a world of small sounds that loom large in her mind.
Above my post you can read unanimous praise for Ackerman’s ability to force the audience into these routines in “real time” (quotes mine.) This approach leaves a viewer with a good deal of time to think (or over-think) the images on the screen. Where does my mind wander as I watch Dielman sit at a cafe, drinking her coffee for four or five minutes? I am able to contemplate Jeanne’s life outside of the frame, but that can only go so far, as Ackerman is only willing to provide a minimal amount of information through exposition on her. We know that her husband is dead and that her sister lives in Canada. We can see that she loves her son, and that her son seems to be a complete bore, or at least he’s too wrapped up in his studies to interact with her in any meaningful way. After a time, I felt that Ackerman’s approach began to lose it’s power over me. The routines became empty to me, mindless. My mind began to wander and wonder where all of this could really be going. Coming into the film, I knew that Jeanne Dielman would end with the protagonist breaking her routine somehow. Even if I had not known, I think I would have grown frustrated.
Am I complaining about Ackerman’s approach or technique? Yes and no. What really put me off wasn’t the slow burn of the film, but how long Ackerman let it burn. By the end of day 1 (45 min. in) I knew how the next two and a half hour would go. There wasn’t anything in the rest of the film to surprise me or move me. Yes, Jeanne dropping the brush while polishing the shoes was an extraordinary moment. Did we really need two hours and forty-five minutes to get there? I suspect that this could have been a much shorter film with the same visceral power, maybe more.
Artists like Ackerman manage to both please and frustrate me. By breaking with common narrative structures (to a certain extent), she is able to provide us with a unique viewing experience. But, at the same time I feel taken advantage of with a film like this. She runs her technique so far into the ground that I can no longer care about Jeanne, or anything within her world.
Jeanne’s breakdown ended up interesting me far less than the early, unflinching look at her daily routines. The first hour of the film asked me to contemplate my own daily routines. How are they different from Jeanne’s? How are they similar? How does she organize her life both in terms of physical space and time? How does she relate to people? When you live a life of that much overwhelming isolation, you are bound to reach a point of madness maybe. That seemed inevitable, and, frankly, dull to me.
This is a common interpretation, yet the mass of people live their lives this way and that mass will probably never see this film.
If they did, a small percentage would change their lives but the majority would re-affirm their lifestyle by telling themselves: “Well, I’m not mad, am I?”
Ps. “…I feel taken advantage of…”
Within the first few minutes I knew what she was going to do to me and I said to myself this could only be 1 ½ hours… then I looked at the disc sleeve and saw 3+ hours so I thought, okay, sit back and let Chantal have her way with you – at 3 hours I thought she had gotten me in the car and wasn’t gonna take me home, but Wham! Bam!
It’s a difficult ride but you just have to succumb to it and accept that Ackerman is going to give it to you for over three hours. You just gotta take out the lube, bend over and hope it’s not too painful. It’s just like watching a movie like The Man From London. Yeah, it FEELS long but really three hours isn’t that long in the whole scope of your life. And if you can just take it for what it is and not demand a conventional plot or standard narrative, it becomes sort of an interesting experiment. Jeanne Dielman is not for everyone but for me , I was able to go along with it.