okcordero’s review published on Letterboxd:
Scavenger Hunt 12
Film #24/Task #22: "A film that is over 200 minutes long"
This is a masterpiece on many levels: of minimalist filmmaking, of showing and not telling, of the internal becoming external in an explosive and tragic ending, of the slow burn and the eventual payoff, and one of the most subtle but striking takedowns of patriarchal society ever. It's a tragic and terrifying story wrapped up that is subtly wrapped up in a quiet criticism of domestic life and the role of women in that life. It's sneaky in its simplicity - it shows three days in the life of a young widow as she does chores around the apartment, runs errands and prepares meals, and takes care of her teenage son. She also happens to turn tricks on the side to support them, all part of her daily routine that seems to take up most of her time, or at least we think. As the days pass, her routine slowly begins to unravel as the spaces between spaces become bigger and the emptiness of her existence becomes more apparent, until it culminates in a series of events that are both tragic and triumphant.
This film is almost three and a half hours yet the running time is completely necessary to establish Jeanne and her life and then to take it apart. Akerman's flawless direction takes us through Jeanne's life through long, stationary takes, emphasizing minute details that both she and the audience are both apt to notice once they're gone or once they change. By the end, we're aware of how things have come apart, not through any overt changes but because of small, subtle signs and long, stark takes that show the emptiness that exists in her life. It's slowly made apparent that Jeanne's life is more or less completely bereft of purpose, and there are several scenes towards the end where she literally sits and stares into space for minutes at a time, without any cuts, and with her face telling the entire story. She's completely devoted herself to taking care of her home and son and even sells her body to take care of them, but through small breakdowns of her life she realizes that she's nothing more than a tool for the men in her life and the film's final minutes decides to act upon this realization in the most surprising way. This is my first time viewing Chantal Akerman's work and it it amazing, saying so much without actually spelling it out. Through the routine and ordinary, she shows the ultimate version of domestic hell. The film shows the danger of routine without purpose and of living without living. There is so much more to say, but it may take another 201 minutes- when it comes down to it, though, this film is a great achievement.