Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles ★★★★★

I'm currently busy working on an essay on Jeanne Dielman, so I needed to do a full, start-to-finish rewatch in order to get the whole film back into my brain. In my essay, I'm analysing the particular injunction between the perfectly ordinary (and, if you will, uneventful) and the concept of the interesting. What better case study is there than Jeanne Dielman, which is one of the simultaneously most interesting and most boring films to have ever existed?

In fact, the theorist I'm mainly looking at (Simone Ngai) doesn't think that there is a large distinction between the interesting and the boring. Both are low affect feelings, which means they don't require major engagement from the viewer. So, it's easier to swing from boredom to interest than it is to swing from boredom to hatred, or from interest to adoration. However, Jeanne Dielman proves itself interesting even beyond this thanks to its serial structure, which makes the viewer enter in its rhythm and create expectations for the future, only to then challenge and break those expectations. It is one of the most meticulously constructed films that I ever saw, one that actively rewards attention and patience. If I had the time, I would soon rewatch it a third time, but I'm afraid I'm only going to be able to rewatch select segments.

I don't want to sound judgemental towards the people who might find this film too tedious, as I entirely sympathise with them, but it's precisely the fact that the film takes its time, which makes it so rewarding. During this second watch, I audibly laughed throughout the end of the second day, during which Jeanne's routine starts crumbling in ways that range from the subtle to the outlandish. I didn't laugh out of amusement, but out of sheer surprise and admiration for the attention to detail and performative talent that went into crafting those scenes. Yesterday, I watched an interview with the director where she comments that what made Jeanne snap was the fact that she experienced her very first orgasm with her second day's client. To me, it's as if that moment made her aware of her own body: a middle-aged mother who is used to live and behave like an automaton, suddenly realises that she, too, can feel bodily pleasure (as well as, perhaps, pain). Such a realisation would, indeed, break her world apart. And while the specifics of the realisation aren't evident in the text itself, the moment when it happens is very clear. The first break from her routine happens right after the encounter with her second client, when she forgets to put the lid back on the vase in which she keeps her clients' money.

From there, she starts meandering around the house, completely lost in a familiar environment. One of the things that I admire the most about this film is its spatiality: we see each room from wildly different angles, but the director is able to create a meticulously precise map of the apartment, so that we know exactly where everything is situated. During the third day, meanwhile, the loss of her routine makes her act (or, rather, react) almost too quickly, and we see her dealing with plenty of consequential "dead time" during which she has to wait, idle and bored. Only Akerman's outstanding insight would have been able to find that contrast.

This is a near-flawless film, and I wouldn't have it be one minute shorter.

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