Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Directed by Chantal Akerman
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 201 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Review Date: August 11, 2009
In Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, the mundane is mesmerizing, the everyday is extraordinary, the banal is beatific. Covering three days in the life of a commonplace Belgian widow, the film focuses on the ordinary and makes it something startling. True, the director Chantel Akerman and writer Danae Maroulacou shift uneasily into melodrama near the end of their epic treatise on womankind, but it’s a small slip in an otherwise heady mixture of fascinating detail and ennobling enigma.
Widowed for six years, housewife Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) runs her home with an efficient, robot-like sense of calm and precision. She preps meals, she washes dishes, she earns money by entertaining one gentleman caller per day, she helps her teenaged son Sylvain (Jan Decorte) with his lessons at night, and she takes him on nightly outings. On the second day of our visit, something happens that gets her off her perfectly realized schedule, and by the third day, things are unraveling faster than she can cope with them.
You’re likely never to see another film with such formalized a structure or as static a filmmaking intent as this one. The camera in each shot never moves a hair; characters enter and leave the frame, and we stare often at settings but no people. The very formality of such a cinematic stance, of course, only mimics the stoic, unyielding bearing of the central character, someone who turns off the lights and closes the door of every room she enters or leaves, who folds her aluminum foil and her napkins with the same kind of minute precision, who usually times meals so that when the soup course is done, the main course is ready. Even when things begin to loosen the structure of her world, however (overcooking the potatoes the second night and having to run to the store to buy another bag making dinner late getting on the table), the camera never ceases its stillness making Jeanne’s mounting unease with her lack of structure noticeably chilling. By the third day when she arises an hour early, drops the brush she shines her son’s shoes with, or has to rewash silverware she clumsily lets fall to the floor, we know something is definitely wrong. In the main, director Akerman never rushes a scene: we watch Jeanne completely wash herself in the tub; we see her dutifully make her bed and her son’s bed every morning after he’s off to school. Even in the film’s climactic moments, nothing is rushed. We watched stunned as Jeanne does the unthinkable and then watch as she reacts to what she’s done in a long, long held shot that the director seems reluctant to let go of. Can she really leave us at this stage of Jeanne’s life without any further explanation?
Delphine Seyrig really accomplishes the impossible in the film. She goes through these intricately detailed sequences (without cuts) in such perfectly practiced precision that it’s just astounding. (One of the bonus features on the set’s second disc shows the agonizing rehearsals and discussions with the director that each shot required.) It’s an amazing performance, and one in which her voice rarely rises above a whisper. Jan Decorte plays her (seemingly) slow-witted son with much the same sense of quiet and calm. There isn’t a wasted word or gesture between these two amazing actors.
The film’s 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced on this transfer which has been anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Color and sharpness are equally good with only a couple of stray hairs and some slight moiré to intrude on the otherwise excellent image quality. Blacks aren’t always the deepest, and there’s definite crushing of details on the two instances when mother and son go out into the night. The film has been divided into 29 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 track is generally solid though there is light hiss on the track and in one sequence with a squalling baby, the cries evince some distortion in the upper reaches of the sound spectrum. There is also some slight flutter on the track late in the film, but it is relatively minor.
All of the bonus features are contained on the second disc in the two-disc set.
“Autour de Jeanne Dielman” shows director Chantal Akerman and star Delphine Seyrig discussing motivation, rehearsing several of the film’s most intricate scenes, and shooting parts of the movie in this somewhat crudely shot 4:3 black and white behind-the-scenes documentary on the film. It runs for 68 ½ minutes.
Chantal Akerman is interviewed in 2009 about her point of view of doing the film the way it was done with an 80% female crew in a 20 ¼-minute anamorphic widescreen feature.
“Chantal Akerman par Chantal Akerman” is a 1997 piece for French television in which the director describes her philosophy of filmmaking for 17 minutes. It’s in 4:3.
Chantal Akerman and Delphine Seyrig are featured in a 1976 archival TV interview in which the women extol the virtues of their recently released movie. The 4:3 featurette runs for 7 minutes.
Cinematographer Babette Mangolte speaks for 22 ¾ minutes in a 2009 interview about her work on director Chantal Akerman’s first three movies. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
Chantal Akerman’s mother Natalia is interviewed by her daughter in a 2007 interview in anamorphic widescreen that runs for 28 ¼ minutes.
Saute ma ville is Chantal Akerman’s first film, a frantic response to the reserved main character of Jeanne Dielman, and the short lasts 13 minutes in 4:3.
The enclosed 20-page booklet has a generous selection of stills, cast and crew lists, the chapter listings, and a laudatory essay on the movie by film professor Ivone Margulies.
4/5 (not an average)
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles requires patience of even the most understanding viewer, but once you surrender to its spell, you’ll find yourself wanting even more from this brilliantly realized yet very personal work of art. Recommended!
Edited by MattH. - 8/12/2009 at 01:41 pm GMT