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"Jeanne Dielman": Solitude's a Fortress?

Famously termed "shallow box cinema" by Manny Farber in his final missive of film criticism, Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a film of labor and of right angles. Nothing's curved and, though there is depth of field in Jeanne's apartment, everything looks flat. All our lady's routines play out at 90-degrees, arranging blocks of space like Legos, everything click-clacking into place (but without the plastic sheen). Here the light angles off linoleum tiles, the least artful mosaic you can picture. Easily unglamorous, the film stands on its own: it never needed the audience it hardly garnered at its debut; it does not need the cultish audience it has gained since; its audience is itself, its authors, its fearful fans—and never the kind of woman it portrays. That woman, though she plans a leisure hour out at night, has no real time for what we privileged know as The Cinema, let alone a cinema like this. Her world is small on purpose, by design as much as by circumstance. But self-protection can only last so long; so long as the order stands still. The power of Akerman's film is that despite its static set-ups, its duration allows the flux to find purchase: the world's activity pushes disorder forward, creeping across the frame like a ripple. That is, the world stays the same—Jeanne's apartment life is a clock—and the social, as registered by Akerman's compositions, restricts movement . Gender isn't bartered, nor allowed investigation. Jeanne dismisses her son's bedtime questions about the past, his father, and sex. She's reduced her world to a system, a system she seems settled into, until her mind betrays her—or simply goes missing. It becomes clear through Jeanne's dissolution, horrifically, that she chiefly fails herself.

I find the film frightening.

* * *

—Take a minute.

* * *

—Breathing is letting time pass through you.

* * *

—Ruins, spoils: where do we put the mush of it?

* * *

Delphine Seyrig is a powerful actress, able to turn attention anywhere in a frame, so seeing her cloistered in a smock life of potato peeling and afternoon whoring is painful. From the first john on, I can't help but yearn for movement. All these hallways! All that staid, joyless progression. Maybe it's the loud mouth American in me that keeps questioning: Why will it so? Is that life?

—Empty, maybe, to you; that's home to her.

* * *

—Cutting corners: not vengeance, not even release, but another wall.

* * *

Deleted
great post, great gifs. thank you
Filmy
Nice write up and this was deep – —Breathing is letting time pass through you!!

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