Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

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

[74]

Whenever I go to tune my acoustic guitar after having not touched it in several months, there's this incredible tension I feel in the back of my neck and shoulders when I'm twisting the tuning pegs to tighten the strings. It's inevitable that these strings are eventually going to snap. It's not a matter of if, but when, and that fact adds an odd anxiety to such a simple task : JEANNE DIELMAN operates under this steady stream of uncomfortable rigidity for over three-hours, building strain from the most mundane things imaginable. Incredibly voyeuristic, like we're watching something -- almost studying, really -- we normally wouldn't have access to. The camera always plants itself against a wall and remains still : no zooms, no pans, no movement -- it even lingers for an additional second or two after Jeanne leaves a room as if to showcase the trudging pace of her everyday routine. For all intents and purposes, she has become one with her surroundings : she's defined entirely by her regimented day-to-day task list, she exists not as a human but as a process, not too dissimilar from a machine. She’s unable to compose a letter to her sister because her report would only include a rundown of the everyday chores her life has been relegated to. This is why when the finely constructed regimen slowly starts to come unraveled -- in the form of missing buttons, burnt potatoes, repeatedly washed dishes, and slippery silverware -- it feels so much more grandiose than it appears on the surface. A disheveled hairdo or a fumbled shoe shine brush (which caused me to physically jump) represents not an insignificant folly but a once-sturdy foundation beginning to deteriorate. I'm convinced I'd have found this a masterpiece if it had been a completely silent film -- the sparse dialogue that exists is either purely expository or extraneously probing (e.g. the two nighttime talks with her son) -- and/or with a severely less melodramatic finish. It's almost as though after waiting 200-minutes for the levee to burst, I was strangely disappointed when it finally did : I guess I wanted that tension to linger indefinitely, and the unresolved shot of Jeanne's blank-slate face at the end -- however wonderfully pictorial -- doesn’t quite satisfy that craving.

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