dir. Chantal Ackerman, “Jeanne Dielman”

1975

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a 1975 film by director Chantal Ackerman. 3 hours and 20 minutes in length, the film shows 3 days in the life of Jeanne Dielman, a Belgian widow and housewife with one grown son, a university student, who sleeps at home and for whom Jeanne is still financially responsible. Jeanne fills her days from morning to night with the same routine she kept when her husband was alive, going to the market, making tea at a certain time, making particular meals on certain days (Ackerman said in an interview that “she didn’t need a man to go on living in that same way because she was so imprinted”). To make ends meet, she babysits for the neighbor in the morning and sleeps with men between 5 and 5:30 on weekday evenings. On the second day, Jeanne begins to “slip up” and make small mistakes in her routine (dropping a spoon, overcooking the potatoes), which rattles her. On the third day, she ends up with a span of free time because of some more slip-ups and sits in her living room in a restless panic. In the final sequence of the film, she reluctantly orgasms during sex with her client, fixes her hair in the mirror, takes a pair of scissors from the drawer, and stabs her customer to death.

The film is a little over the top in its feminist twist on Lacan (Ackerman said that her “unconscious” starts to come through when Jeanne’s schedule deteriorates and she makes her “slip-ups”), but it is a fascinating exploration of what “the female gaze” is, or what women are outside of their symbolic or exhibitionist value for men. The tiresome repetition with a difference is reminiscent of Stein, though the payoff in the ending here is much more shocking. This is certainly another ‘flat’ film in its shooting, though not in exactly the same way as some of the others. There are very few long shots or closeups in Jeanne Dielman; instead, most of the action unfolds in the mid-range shot typical of TV. The camera is conspicuous through its very lack of movement – we become aware of it because it does not follow Jeanne’s face. It is often positioned so that she is exactly at the center of a head-on meatloaf-mashing session, directly overhead during sex, or squarely off to the side of the kitchen, where she enters in and out of the frame as she continues her routine. It is this very passivity (itself a “feminine trait”) that makes us aware of how little of a woman’s world a movie actually shows, and absorbs us (again, in a yonic mode) in the non-action the film portrays.

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