Monday, October 03, 2011

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Written and directed by Chantal Akerman, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is the story of a single mother’s life in the course of three days as she takes care of her son while being a part-time prostitute for clients that she meets. The film is an exploration into a woman’s discipline life which starts off meticulously as it later unravels in the course of the three days that is explored. Starring Delphine Seyrig in the title character along with Jan Decorte, Henri Storck, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, and Yves Bacal. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is an engrossing yet captivating film from Chantal Akerman.

Jeanne Dielman is a widowed woman who lives a life where by day, she is a widowed housemother who is raising her teenage son Sylvain (Jan Decorte). During the afternoon when he’s away, she does a routine of cleaning her apartment and getting whatever things she needs like food, yarn, or anything. Before dinnertime, Dielman would have men visiting her as she plays the role of a prostitute. She gets paid and they leave as she continues to do her duty as a woman where once Sylvain comes home. She serves him dinner and helps out with his homework as they do all sorts of things in their lives.

After a good first day with her first client (Henri Storck) going well and the second day seems fine. Her second client (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) comes in for the second afternoon where something happens as Dielman’s disciplined routine starts to unravel. With the third day happening, Dielman’s own world starts to crumble in the routines and in her search to find a button for a coat she received from her sister in Canada. When her third client (Yves Bacal) arrives, Dielman ponders about the life that she leads for herself and her son.

The film is an in-depth look into the life of a widowed housemother in the span of three days as she works part-time as a self-employed prostitute. Throughout the three days that is presented, the film dwells into this woman’s life in the way she conducts herself. Her typical day is to wake up in the morning, make breakfast for her son, polish his shoes so he can get ready for school. Then, she does some cleaning, run a few errands like going to the bank and get some food for the meals she’s to make for dinner. She returns home for a bit to have a bit of lunch, take care of a baby for a neighbor for a while, and leave the apartment for a bit for a few before she meets her client who goes to apartment. After that, she finishes making the dinner and waits for her son to return so they can eat. She checks on his homework, they go out for a bit, and go to bed.

That is what a day of Jeanne Dielman’s life is essentially as Chantal Akerman gets the audience to delve into this woman’s daily life in the course of three days. After the first day and everything else leading up to Dielman’s encounter with her second client, things would unravel as little by little. Things that the audience sees in the first day that Dielman does in her life starts to go out of order. There, a woman starts to realize something isn’t right as she tries to get things back in order. By the third day, it gets worse as Dielman’s own world leaves her unhinged and confused about the things she does leading to a climatic moment in the film.

Akerman’s direction is very entrancing in the way she presents the film based on an unconventional yet minimalist script that doesn’t feature a lot of dialogue. At the same time, the approach that Akerman tells the story is engaging but also detached in some respects since there are no close-ups nor any camera movements. Plus, there is no film score as the only music that is present is what’s heard on the radio or on location. The camera always remain still and observing everything that Dielman does in her daily routine. Akerman’s framing also serves as a way to make Dielman’s world seem oppressive in some ways where she is often in the frame while there’s one scene where she’s trying to get money at a bank where she’s at the edge of it.

The direction of the film has Akerman taking the film’s lack of conventional plot by letting Dielman’s life be told in a meticulous manner of the way she conducts her life. For a film with a 201-minute running time, not everyone will want to invest into the world of this woman as the first half of the film is an exploration of what a typical day the woman goes through in twenty-four hours. After her tryst with her second client, the details of what the audience sees in the first half on the way Dielman does her duties begin to unwind in the littlest of details. It’s all about the way Akerman deconstructs things where the film starts to feel looser though maintains its minimalist tone. The overall approach in its story and in its direction is a mesmerizing yet haunting portrait of a woman’s life told in such grand detail from the mind of Chantal Akerman.

Cinematographer Babette Mangolte does a superb job with the film‘s photography that is very simple and colorful in the way many of the film‘s interiors are present. Notably when Dielman turns on the lights and turns them off to give a very dark look to the rooms she’s in while many of the exteriors in Brussels show a wondrous but grainy look to maintain the intimacy of the film. Editor Patricia Canino does an excellent job with the editing in utilizing a few jump-cuts while keeping the film straightforward for its slow though methodical pacing for the film.

Art director Philippe Graff does a brilliant job with the look of Dielman‘s apartment filled with objects and things including Sylvain‘s bed which when folded back turns into a big chair. Sound editor Alain Marchal and mixer Jean Paul Loublier is amazing for the intimacy that is presented throughout the film for many of the film’s interiors. The exterior sound work play to the location of Brussels with sparse sound textures to exemplify Dielman’s quiet life.

The cast for the film includes some notable brief appearances by Henri Storck, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, and Yves Bacal as the three clients Dielman meets in the film along with Akerman providing the voice as the unseen-neighbor who gives Dielman her baby to look after. Jan Decorte is very good as Dielman’s teenage son Sylvain who asks questions about his late father as well as the idea of what women go through in a very low-key but memorable performance. Finally, there’s Delpine Seyrig, in what is definitely a performance for the ages, as the title character. Seyrig’s performance is one that is definitely restrained and quiet in the way she makes Dielman into a compelling but also sympathetic figure. Particularly as there’s a complexity to this woman who at times seems oppressed but also a bit comforted by her routine until it unravels on her where Seyrig maintains that sense of restraint throughout her performance. It is truly a chilling but evocative performance from the late yet iconic actress.

***DVD Tidbits Written from 3/31/13-4/8/13***

The 2009 Region 1 2-disc DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film in its 1:66:1 theatrical aspect ratio with Dolby Digital Mono sound. The first disc is the film itself supervised and approved by its creator Chantal Akerman in a new remastered digital transfer as well as new and improved English subtitles. The second disc of the DVD includes a slew of extras relating to the film as well as it’s filmmaker.

The first is a 69-minute documentary called Autour de “Jeanne Dielman” by actor Sami Frey as it chronicles the making of the film. The documentary explores the process of how Chantal Akerman wanted to make the film as she and Delphine Seyrig often talk about how to approach the character and do things in a meticulous manner. Shot in grainy black-and-white video, it’s a very compelling piece of footage that reveals Akerman’s approach as well as Seyrig’s view on feminism.

2 interviews with Akerman includes a 20-minute piece on the film as well as a 17-minute piece on Akerman’s view on filmmaking. The first interview has Akerman talking about how she got introduced to the world of films and her collaboration with cinematographer Babette Mangolte. Akerman also talks about her approach to filmmaking and how she met Delphine Seyrig at a film festival as well as the initial reaction to Jeanne Dielman when it premiered at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes. The second interview is from a French TV show in which Akerman reads a text about herself in a self-portrait about her life and the journey she took to become a filmmaker. It’s an interesting piece that reveals a woman reading about herself as she comes of age.

The 23-minute interview with cinematographer Babette Mangolte has Mangolte talk about her collaboration and friendship with Akerman as well as their views on film. Mangolte talks about her first meeting with Akerman in the early 70s in New York City where they both shared a love for experimental films and how they used their background in experimental filmmaking for Jeanne Dielman. A lot of unveils some technical aspects of the film such as why the framing device for the film was so unique and how helpful Delphine Seyrig was during the production. It’s a very fascinating interview from someone who has very unique views on films and feminism.

The 28-minute interview with Akerman’s mother Natalia from 2007 as it’s directed by Akerman has Natalia Akerman talk about her daughter’s work and her opinions about film. With Chantal Akerman seen mostly off-camera asking her mother various questions, it is truly one of the most entertaining interviews as it’s shot largely in a still shot where Natalia Akerman reveals her love for her daughter’s films and how she can relate to them as opposed to the big-time Hollywood blockbusters. The 7-minute archival TV excerpt with Akerman and actress Delphine Seyrig from a February 1976 French TV program has Akerman and Seyrig talk about the film and what they wanted to say where Seyrig responds to men’s reaction about the realism of the film with Akerman supporting Seyrig’s response.

The 13-minute short film Saute ma ville is the first short film directed and starring Akerman back in 1968 when she was just 18-years old. It’s a very witty short set in a confined apartment space as a young woman cooks and clean her kitchen. It’s a very funny short that also has an air of darkness as the short also includes a two-minute introduction from Akerman explaining the film and how it would relate to some of the attributes that she would use in Jeanne Dielman. The DVD also contains a booklet that features an essay by film scholar Ivone Marguiles entitled A Matter of Time. The essay has Marguiles discussing Akerman’s filmmaking approach and why the film is considered a landmark for feminists. It’s an engrossing essay that unveils the film’s importance in cinema as well as the career of its creator Chantal Akerman.

***End of DVD Content***

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is an extraordinary yet provocative film from Chantal Akerman featuring a radiant yet soaring performance from Delphine Seyrig. While the film’s long running time and minimalist approach won’t be for everyone’s taste since it is a demanding film that requires patience. It is however a fascinating though haunting portrait of a woman as it is considered be one of the greatest films of the 1970s feminist movement. In the end, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a brilliant but harrowing drama from Chantal Akerman.

Chantal Akerman Films: La Chambre - Hotel Monterey - Je Tu Il Elle - News from Home - Les Rendez-vous d’Anna - (American Stories, Food, Family and Philosophy) - (Night and Day (1991 film)) - (A Couch in New York) - (La Captive) - (Tomorrow We Move) - (Almayer’s Folly) - (No Home Movie)

© thevoid99 2011


Anonymous said...

I just saw this film the other week and loved it. It's exactly the kind of minimalist masterpiece I crave.

I've been sifting through some of the reviews on your blog, and I must say, I am impressed. We share a very similar taste in movies, and your reviews are very well written, so I'll definitely be sticking around. Great work!

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I also prefer minimalist films as well because it allows the filmmaker to do more with the visuals rather than emphasize on dialogue or back-story.