Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
JEANNE DIELMAN, 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES
Director: Chantal Akerman
Production: Paradise Films (Brussels) and Unité Trois (Paris), in association with Le Ministère de la Culture française du Belgique; color; running time: 201 minutes; length: 7,232 feet. Released 1976.
Producers: Evelyne Paul, Corinne Jenart; screenplay: Chantal Akerman; assistant directors: Marilyn Watelet, Serge Brodsky, Marianne de Muylder; photography: Babette Mangolte; editor: Patricia Canino; assistant editors: Catherine Huhardeaux, Martine Chicot; sound editor: Alain Marchall; sound recordists: Benie Deswarte, Françoise Van Thienen; sound re-recordist: Jean-Paul Loublier; art director: Philippe Graff; assistant art editor: Jean-Pol Ferbus; music extract: "Bagatelle for Piano," No. 27, op. 126 by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Cast: Delphine Seyrig (Jeanne Dielman); Jan Decorte (Sylvain Dielman); Henri Storck (1st Caller); Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (2nd Caller); Yves Bical (3rd Caller); Chantal Akerman (Voice of Neighbor).
Margulies, Ivone, Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday, Durham, 1996.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1975–76.
Maupin, Françoise, in Image et Son (Paris), February 1976.
Alemann, C., and H. Hurst, interview with Akerman, in Frauen und Film (Berlin), March 1976.
Bertolina, G., "Chantal Akerman: Il cinema puro," in Filmcritica (Rome), March 1976.
Dubroux, Daniele, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March-April 1976.
Creveling, C., "Women Working," in Camera Obscura (Berkeley), Fall 1976.
Villien, Bruno, and P. Carcassone, "Chantal Akerman," in Cinématographe (Paris), June 1977.
Kinder, Marsha, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1977.
Mairesse, E., "Apropos des films de Chantal Akerman: Un Temps atmosphere," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1977.
Loader, Jayne, in Jump Cut (Berkeley), November 1977.
Patterson, Patricia, and Manny Farber, "Kitchen without Kitsch," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1977.
Bergstrom, Janet, in Camera Obscura (Berkeley), Autumn 1978.
Martin, Angela, "Chantal Akerman's Films," in Feminist Review, no. 3, 1979.
Pym, John, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), April 1979.
Perlmutter, Ruth, "Feminine Absence: A Political Aesthetic in Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (New York), Spring 1979.
Lakeland, M. J., "The Color of Jeanne Dielman," in Camera Obscura (Berkeley), Summer 1979.
Seni, N., in Frauen und Film (Berlin), September 1979.
Jayamanne, L., "Modes of Performance in Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman," in Australian Journal of Screen Theory (Kensington, New South Wales), no. 8, 1980.
Orellana, M., "Notas sobre un nuevo cine: El de Chantal Akerman," in Cine (Mexico City), January-February 1980.
Perlmutter, Ruth, "Visible Narrative, Visible Woman," in Millenium (New York), Spring 1980.
Aranda, I., and A. Pagaolatos, interview with Akerman, in Contra campo (Madrid), March 1981.
Singer, B., in Millennium Film Journal (New York), Winter-Spring 1989–90.
von Bagh, P., "Keskusteluvuorossa: Chantal Akerman," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 4, 1991.
Rabinowitz, Paula, "Screen Memories," in Wide Angle (Baltimore), vol. 18, no. 4, October 1996.
Eslami, M., "The Portrait of a Lady," in Film International (Tehran), vol. 5, no. 2 1997.
* * *
Chantal Akerman, a 25-year-old French-speaking Belgian from a Jewish family, made in Jeanne Dielman, which is perhaps the most prestigious Belgian film and an emblematic masterpiece of the feminist cinema of the 1970s. With no camera movement whatsoever, and very rarely departing from a single medium-long shot per scene, the 201-minute film scrutinizes for three days the rigorously methodical life of a woman approximately 50 years old and her teenage son. The fastidious rituals of her daily existence include prostitution with what appears to be a regulated sequence of men who come to her apartment, presumably without the son's knowledge, on weekly appointments.
Inspired by Michael Snow's cinematic investigations of space and time and the ritualized gestures of Resnais's and Duras's films, Akerman radically understated the dramatic dimension of her film even though it culminates in the unexpected murder of a client after a day in which Dielman's defensive and psychically anesthesizing rituals go awry. The filmmaker's careful compositions, abetted by Babette Mangolte's brilliantly cool cinematography, so frequently recall the features of paintings of 17th-century interiors (Vermeer, De Hooch, Metsu, Ter Borch) that she seems to be commenting on the Netherlandish art of representing women cleaning house, preparing food, reading letters, grooming children, sewing, listening to music, and entertaining men. Jeanne Dielman recasts that treasury of lucid images in rigorously geometrical settings from the perspective of a participating woman, interpreting them as compulsive displacements of anxiety.
Akerman so protracted and extenuated the pace of her film that the subtle shifts in Dielman's behaviour as the film progresses seem to occur at the threshold of attention. The long-held distant shots, with vivid natural sounds but no movie music, and the rhythmical editing that follows the heroine around her house and at times onto the streets, remaining for a few seconds on a location she has left, or anticipating her arrival, inure the viewer to her underplayed emotions. Furthermore, the shot changes so often mark ellipses, and the dialogue is so sparse, that the viewer may become deeply enmeshed in the film before realizing the significance of a scene that occurred much earlier. For instance, the film opens with the departure of one of Dielman's afternoon clients. But it is possible to think that he is her husband, departing for a week and giving her spending money, until the next day's client appears more than an hour later.
Two intertitles, "End of the first day" and "End of the second day," divide the film into three parts. On the second day Dielman's polished routine begins to show some roughness: she mistimes dinner and overcooks potatoes, but it is not until the third day that minute misfunctions begin to indicate an imminent breakdown: she skips a button on her housecoat, drops a shoebrush and some silverware, washes the same dishes twice, goes too early to the post office and too late to her customary cafe, fails to untie a package. These minor lapses prepare us to see the orgasm she experiences while coolly having intercourse with her afternoon client as a massive deviation from her routine of self-control. In the next shot, she drives the scissors she had to use to get her package open into his throat.
Through most of the film we watch Dielman alone. Even when she is with her son or a neighbor, she says very little. The very sparseness of speech gives weight to the rare instances of it. In this way, the recitation of Baudelaire's poem of the ravages of time, "L'Ennemi," which Jeanne helps her son to memorize, takes on importance. But most of all, it is his brief bedtime discussions of love, sex, and Oedipal rage against his dead father which suggest that the sexual maturing of her son might be the catalyst for the fatal disruption of her defensive compulsions.
—P. Adams Sitney