Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
She boils water. She drains pasta. She answers the door. She washes herself. She cooks dinner. She dines. She reads letters. She knits. She brushes her hair. She makes the bed. She collects money. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
This is the life of Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig, who made a name for herself in Alain Resnais’ LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD), a single mother living in an apartment in Brussels. Things alter occasionally, but it takes a while to get to more than just the woman burning some potatoes–the film does run more than three hours, after all. JEANNE DIELMAN, 23, QUAI DU COMMERCES, 1080 BRUXELLES (even the title is too long!) is a document of a mostly mundane life, projected into a mostly mundane film.
The film is designed to illustrate the repetitiveness of daily life. But just because Jeanne is bored doesn’t mean we have to be. It’s like some sort of cruel trick on the audience. Otherwise–and not to shortchange her as a filmmaker as a whole–Chantal Akerman (her first finished feature-length narrative) appears to have only a firm grasp of what is occurring. One wouldn’t be surprised to be told that Akerman set up the camera, whispered “Action” and then ducked out for some chocolates with her cinematographer (Babette Mangolte). (There is behind-the-scenes footage of Akerman telling her star, rather nonchalantly, “Let’s see how much we can get in one shot.”) Often, the camera just sits there observing Jeanne do her chores (“tasks” would sound far too exciting here) until she moves out of frame. A camera doesn’t need to move in order for the images to compel, but there should be something to catch our eye. In JEANNE DIELMAN, 23, QUAI DU COMMERCES, 1080 BRUXELLES, viewers are treated to such oh-so-stunning sights like bare kitchen tables, pressed quilts and clean dishes. Thrilling stuff.
Delphine Seyrig has a difficult job here, and it’s hard to say exactly how much she contributes to the overall staleness of the film. Really, there isn’t a whole lot of depth given to her character, and what changes do occur are so miniscule (for the most part…) that they hold far less meaning than Akerman hopes for. When Jeanne actually begins to show signs of developing as a person, the changes aren’t as unnerving as intended. Think of your daily commute to work. What if you’ve run out of your favorite cereal and you can’t have breakfast? You may be thrown off, but what does it truly change in the long run? Viewers of this film are expected to think that dropped shoe polish will be a significant factor in the complete unraveling of one’s being. But really, couldn’t it just be cleaned up so she can move onto the next thing of her day? (Is it brushing her hair or going to the store?)
Many viewers have found meaning within all of the nothing. But there is such little depth when viewed in the excessive length. The only true challenge found in this charmless novelty may be, What’s more tedious: Jeanne Dielman’s daily routines, or our having to watch them all?
Video: 1.66:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “Supervised by director Chantal Akerman and cinematographer Babette Mangolte, this new 2K digital restoration was undertaken from a 4K scan made from the 35 mm original camera negative by the Cinematheque royale de Belgique.”
While the sets are limited, details and textures show up nicely and colors appear naturally muted.
Audio: French Mono. Subtitles in English. “The monaural soundtrack was remastered from a 35 mm sound negative and a 35 mm positive print.”
Like the video, the audio presentation doesn’t exactly call attention to itself (there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue) but still shows improvement and accomplishes its purpose.
Autour de “Jeanne Dielman” (1:08:47): This extensive documentary, shot during the film’s production, gives an intimate account of director Chantal Akerman working with her cast
Chantal Akerman: On Jeanne Dielman (20:20): In this 2009 interview, Akerman reflects on her most famous work.
Chantal Akerman: On Filmmaking (17:04): Excerpted from a 1997 episode of the French television program Cinema de notre temps, this interview features Akerman discussing the art of filmmaking.
Chantal Akerman and Delphine Seyrig (6:51): The director and her lead sit down for an interview, which originally aired on the French television program Les rendez-vous du dimanche in 1976.
Babette Mangolte (22:41): In this 2009 interview, cinematographer Mangolte discusses her career and working relationship with Akerman.
Natalia Akerman (28:14): Akerman sits down with her mother.
Saute Ma Ville (13:01): Akerman’s 1968 short film. Accompanied by an Intro (1:20).
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by film scholar Ivone Margulies.