06 February 2010

At the movies: Jeanne Dielman 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig, whom you may remember from Last Year at Marienbad or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) is a widow. She is a mother, a cook, a babysitter, and an occasional prostitute. Her life is built in the security of routine and deliberation.

Her story is not the story of all women; but in being the story of one Belgian woman, it approaches the universal. This is a film about time, and truth, and desperation. It exacts a price, this film, but leaves the viewer with the sense that they have indeed spent some time living the life of another.

Making its Nashville debut at the Belcourt, Jeanne Dielman… is a landmark of experimental cinema. Director Chantal Akerman here makes extensive use of long takes with locked-off camera, and the end result has been confounding and evolving viewers for thirty-five years. It is in direct opposition to the philosophies of modern cinema that hold that if a meal appears on screen, then we can infer its creation and proceed accordingly.

There is no inference in this world- we experience it all.

This isn’t a film for everyone, but it is a film meant for everyone. Regardless of your own life experience, there is no one who can’t understand the enervating securities of routine and habit. A job you might be stuck in. A family in whose gears you try and live. A relationship that makes the act of living into a placeholder.

We’ve all of us lived parts of our lives in wrenching real-time, and Jeanne Dielman presents it with neither hesitation nor transcendence. We live in its space.

If there's any complaint to be made about the film, it's that one cannot experience it as the breakthrough it was in its initial release. So much of its visual and structural language has since been assimilated and absorbed by other filmmakers and their films, it's hard to see Jeanne as the innovator that it is.

Still, it is such an overwhelming experience, I cannot help but recommend it to anyone who considers moviegoer their religious affiliation.

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