June 12, 2011

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Buxelles (1975)
Grade: 47/100

Director: Chantal Akerman
Stars: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte, Yves Bical

What it's about. Set in Brussels, Belgium. Jeanne Dielman is a forty-something widow with a twenty-something son. Both have the emotional range of a heavily sedated zombie. Dielman waits until the son has gone off to school (high school must extend indefinitely in Brussels), then, after a lengthy series of homemaking chores, she entertains a john. A different one every day, each of whom presumably enjoys a humorless silent aging woman whose idea of love-making is to lie flat on her back like a beached whale.

Dielman also regularly babysits a neighbor's infant, cooks meals for herself and her son, and haunts obscure clothing stores looking for the perfect button. I kid you not. By the way, the film is about three and a half hours long.

How others will see it. Since the director is a woman, and the year is 1975, there is probably a hear-me-roar feminist message here somewhere that some people relate to. Still waters run deep, the straw that broke the camel's back, or whatever. It's enough to please many viewers, since the imdb.com user ratings are very high. In fact, it is the highest rated of Akerman's many films, and has also received the most votes, even more than a 1996 film that she somehow conned William Hurt and Juliette Binoche into making.

How I felt about it. Most film producers have a common problem. They have no money, but must make films that people will pay to see. The solution? Use existing sets, a few amateur actors, and a script that consists of a dozen lines. Extend each scene interminably, and throw in a shock ending so that folks won't feel that they have completely wasted three hours of their lives.

I wonder, though. Suppose Jeanne Dielman simply took John #3's money instead of sticking him with a pair of scissors. Would the movie have been any worse? Maybe it would have been better, since the ending would be something other than a feminist's vindictive fantasy.

What dialogue there is, is unconvincing. Post pubescent son reveals a serious case of Oedipus complex to his mother, who responds as if he was instead discussing next week's weather forecast. Unseen young mother neighbor woman prattles on about what to cook for her husband. Dielman reads a relative's letter with the emotional involvement of a times table.

It seems that the director left out the best part: the son's reaction when he returns home to his catatonic mother and the big stiff on her bed. Then again, if he remained in character, he would likely ignore the crisis, and instead crack open a book and ask what is for dinner.