OTB#4: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

This is it — the final new entry on the directors’ Top 100 — and it’s at #4. (On the critics’ list, it was #1.) It’s a controversial film, because it’s over three hours long, and there isn’t much dialogue — instead we’re watching Delphine Seyrig doing stuff with longer takes than is normal.

I watched this movie almost a decade ago, and I had reservations initially, but then got quite enthusiastic. And now I’ve got the new 2K restoration from Criterion.

This isn’t like I remembered the movie! The first half hour, at least, is totally action packed. OK, some scenes go on for a bit longer than usual, but it’s a lot more conventional than I remembered… I just remember Seyrig peeling potatoes for three hours (and then going on a killing spree Deathwish IV: This Time It’s in Brussels OOPS SPOILERS).

Seyrig’s performance is great, but it’s very performey (that’s a word). That is, her expression in most scenes say “now I’m performing this bit”, like her stance now is expressing “now I’m performing shining some shoes” (which she’s obviously not done before). It gives everything a slight sense of… not unreality, but heightened reality, in a way?

It gives everything a slight frisson of unreality.

Akerman’s shots are meticulously composed — I watched an interview with her where she said that she was constantly trying to do shots that were totally off-centre, but she was always dissatisfied with those shots, so she returned to balanced shots.

Watching Seyrig’s back for five minutes while she’s doing the dishes… that’s an unconventional choice. But it’s kinda riveting! So much withholding.

“Taux d’Internet”!?


Some of the stuff she’s doing is kinda inscrutable — at least now. She seemed to be going to the post office to… buy money orders? Cheques? Make deposits? And now she’s entering data from some cards into a book?

I’m guessing these things would be more understandable at the time?

Wow… is this the first moment in the movie where she’s not busy? She’s just staring off into space for a few seconds…

And then the next shot has a “wrong” focus.

Everything’s already going awry — it didn’t start with the Day 2 Guy.

Oh, the last day is the longest day…

There could be a whole line of Jeanne Dielman merchandise — I’d buy that thermos.

And… dish rags!

Man, this film flies past…

I saw some Galaxy Brain reactions to this becoming The World’s Best Movie on twitter (*gasp*, you’re all saying now: not on twitter! where everybody’s reasonable!) along the lines of “people claiming that Jeanne Dielman isn’t boring are lying! Of course being boring is the whole point of the movie! Washing the dishes is boring so that’s what Akerman is saying!” But really, no — this movie isn’t boring at all, and it’s not designed to bore anybody. Akerman wanted to make (as she said) movies that were as thrilling as any Hitchcock movie — and she did.

But perhaps everything that’s going on in this movie is better appreciated on second viewing?

Anyway: It’s brilliant.

Jeanne Dielman. 23, quai du Commerce. 1080 Bruxelles . Chantal Akerman. 1975.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best 2022 series.

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