Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

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

"I'll see you next Thursday."

It's about time for this arthouse gem to be on the minds of every cinephile who values important film and challenging stories. Almost no one ever did it better than Chantal Akerman. And almost no picture ever was so crucial as Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles.

Especially so on this International Women's Day -- as well, this Women's History Month -- as perhaps no movie ever made so starkly and so boldly stakes a claim as THE feminist masterpiece of all-time. To me there's really little question of it, as I found out over a year ago upon my first viewing, enraptured and transfixed watching a recording from the TCM channel. Now, with a proper Criterion Collection Blu-ray in hand and brilliant 2K restoration from the 35mm original negative on my screen, I am in awe yet again.

What is it about this stunning work? Why does it impact me so? It's hard to say. A film with no score, no camera movements, only five named actors (and one of them on screen nearly the entire duration), and a story taking place over three days with notable repetition of each one? Oh, don't forget its 201-minute runtime.

For the uninitiated, Jeanne Dielman follows the titular figure -- a widow and mother, played by Delphine Seyrig -- which proves that, indeed, a woman's work is never done. This Belgian-French film documents her for a trio of routine days doing what a "homemaker" does in the mid-1970s: cooking, cleaning, errands around Brussels, talking with and caring for her adolescent son, and tending to one client every day as a prostitute in her modest apartment. Oh, wait, you say that last thing isn't routine? Au contraire, mon frere, you don't know what goes on behind closed doors. Jeanne in fact has it down to a science with these men, who visit her once a week, as each of her scheduled encounters lasts just as long as the time it takes to cook dinner before she sets the table when her son comes home.

It may look like she's on autopilot, and perhaps that was true for a time, but audiences closely paying attention will notice something happen right at the halfway mark of the film. It's small, maybe inconsequential. But then it's another, and another, and then a series of glitches in the matrix so to speak. The ad nauseum routines begin to break down. Why? We've only followed her for a day, so we can't know for sure. But Akerman, all of just 25 years old as the director, wants us to infer a little, while also showing us the types of things most movies feel the need to skip. Not here, as her ability to keep viewers fascinated by the banal is equaled only by her visceral power in revealing truths rarely spoken.

Long, static, unbroken takes -- filmed by a cinematographer Babette Mangolte, who frequently worked with Akerman -- take up nearly the whole picture. Those shots that aren't minutes-long are done room to room: we watch the darkness for a moment, we see Jeanne turn the light switch and do whatever it is she needed to in that frame, we wait for her to turn off the light, we catch one more glimpse of her walking out of the shot. The mundanity is broken up by the aforementioned hiccups, and gradually we see that things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. Yes, there is a final act with a gut punch of an ending. No, you will not hear any spoilers here. You should know nothing about anything of the last "day" of this film until you see it for yourself.

This might be one of those "deal-breaker" movies. Like, if I were in a relationship, and I sat down with my partner to show her this singular work but she was disinterested or unmoved by it… hm, yeah that might be a problem. Well (un)fortunately this divorced 36-year-old doesn't have that opportunity. Maybe one day! Meanwhile, my cat has fallen asleep both times. I like to think his purr is one of dignified approval. Down with the patriarchy, right meow!

After seeing this twice, I feel like I know Jeanne Dielman -- and Jeanne Dielman -- so well. But, upon another viewing, maybe next year at this same time, I'm sure there will be more to discover.

Added to Chantal Akerman ranked.
Added to My Subjective List of the Best Narrative Films.
Added to My Subjective List of the Best Films from Every Year I've Seen Them.

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