Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
October 16, 2015 1:24 PM - Subscribe

A lonely widowed housewife does her daily chores, takes care of her apartment where she lives with her teenage son, and turns the occasional trick to make ends meet. However, something happens that changes her safe routine.

Part of the Criterion on Hulu film club.

Monday, October 19: The Passion of Joan of Arc, the 1928 silent film based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and featuring a breathtaking performance from Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan, it's widely regarded as a landmark of cinema. It can be watched here.
posted by Ian A.T. (15 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Watching this in stages, hopefully I'll get through it this weekend.
posted by octothorpe at 6:40 PM on October 16, 2015

I'm probably not going to rewatch this in the super-near future, although I probably will someday. So this isn't super fresh in my memory right now and I'll stick to general impressions, because I have lots of those.

As tedious as this movie was to watch--and it was--it's stuck with me pretty hard.

One thing that bothers me about a lot of narratives is how everyday things are relegated to the background. Just regular maintenance things like how are this guy's clothes always clean and who is making the food and who is cleaning up afterward. I get why they are--because they're not relevant to the stories most of the time. But leaving that kind of thing in the background all too often means leaving women in the background. So if nothing else, this movie is penance for a minute or two of that.

This movie brings all that to the foreground. It elevates those things, even literally, as the camera is looking up at her as she goes about her day. You don't get elided versions, either, like something that just tells you, "Yeah, this is when the dishes get washed," but you see it. The whole thing. And it's a radical shift, that, to something like a female gaze.

And the things that a traditional narrative would focus on are treated exactly the same as everything else. They're not elevated in importance by virtue of being more interesting to an audience or anything like that. They're just another part of her existence that takes up about the same amount of space that cooking dinner does. And in the long run, they actually seem less important. I remember the tedious stuff much more clearly than I do the notable events.

When I was watching it, there was a scene where she's folding up her tablecloth to put away and I'm still in regular movie mode, thinking that this tablecloth will soon be relevant to some plot point. And I think that the movie had to be as long as it is to acclimate you to this not being that kind of narrative. It's in there because that's what she did, and her life consists of the things she does.

Anyway, I might actually think of more to say later. I saw this maybe a few months ago, and it seemed long at the time, and I fell asleep at one point and had to rewind, and I took tons of breaks, but I've thought about it a lot since. And I really encourage everyone to try to get through it however you can, because it's worth it.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:35 PM on October 16, 2015

FWIW, this will be on TCM on Tuesday, October 27 at 03:15 AM (ET) as part of their Trailblazing Women month.

Television: It's still a thing!
posted by Sys Rq at 3:45 PM on October 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

For anyone who watches Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and would like to have an interesting point of comparison to it, I'd suggest the Pressburger and Powell film Black Narcissus as an excellent contrast.

Black Narcissus outwardly couldn't be more different. It's lush and exotic story about a group of nuns opening a convent in the Himalayas. The look of the film is as rich as Jeanne Dielman is spare, but the main underlying themes are almost identical. Rip away the exotic elements and it too is a story of routine interrupted by unbidden arousal. With Black Narcissus the story is informed by a male point of view even though its subject is primarily the nuns, while the point of view for Jeanne Dielman is clearly informed in reaction to that kind of perspective.

Thinking about the two movies in comparison might be beneficial for anyone who isn't sure what to think about either of them individually, though I suspect that "either" would mostly mean this film since it is the more unconventional of the two by no small degree.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:41 PM on September 1, 2016

Oh, and in the unlikely event anyone sees my recommendation and takes me up on it. I'd be happy to discuss the comparisons or either film in more detail if my claim seems unclear.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:42 PM on September 1, 2016

And I arrive, years late, with Starbucks. :) I recently fell back into this film, and have rewatched, mesmerized--also I posted this question on Ask:

I found myself completely rapt, this time through; I'd get absorbed in the minutiae, and then when I looked around, an hour had gone by. And I wasn't really thinking about why, until later when I was idly reading other people's thoughts about the movie, and came across a post by someone who got similarly caught up recently, and who talked about it in terms of quarantine.

Me: OHHHHHHH. I mean, a middle-aged woman, isolated and circumscribed by a small apartment and the never-ending round of the small chores that make up a day, where the failure of a small thing takes on a huge significance? It Me. Even more than it had ever been me before. Now when I open my bedroom door and the lopsided hinges give out their squeak, I'm hearing the sound design from Jeanne Dielman.

gusottertrout, I haven't rewatched Black Narcissus anytime recently, but I see it's on the Criterion Channel, so I definitely will! I'd never thought to compare them; I'm sure it'll be interesting.
posted by theatro at 5:23 AM on September 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks, Duffington!
posted by theatro at 5:52 PM on October 2, 2020

Back in 2013, I saw Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles at my local film museum/arthouse theater. I found it amazing, immersive. The main character does super-mundane things efficiently, and the first act feels like a graceful dance. Then we see her competence decrease on a frazzled day -- the first time she dropped something, I think I literally gasped.

Several days later, my spouse and I saw Children of Men at the museum, my third time and his first. Children of Men also has several very long takes, but they tend to include killings, mostly by gunfire. A lot of people die in that movie. I walked out shaken.

As I emerged into the lobby, I muttered, "That was pretty intense." And then a stranger who evidently recognized me said, "A little more exciting than Jeanne Dielman, huh?"

I laughed very hard.
posted by brainwane at 8:24 AM on December 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Via vacapinta's front page post I found Laura Mulvey's essay which I found informative, especially regarding audience response:
Jeanne Dielman had been first screened in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. Akerman has described the difficult atmosphere, as she and Delphine Seyrig, the film’s star, sat at the back of the cinema listening to the seats banging as the audience walked out. In a later interview she said: “The next day fifty people invited the film to festivals. And I travelled with it all over the world."....

...But the critics’ greater willingness to watch difficult films reflects a wider acceptance of ‘slow cinema’. When I first included Jeanne Dielman in avant-garde film classes in the early 1980s, there were always some students – perhaps even a lot – who had to leave to smoke, to go to the lavatory, etc. I noticed recently that, 20 or so years later, a whole class would be gripped by the film, actually experiencing its suspenseful plot as well as its mesmerising cinematic language.
posted by brainwane at 10:54 AM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

I rewatched a big chunk of it today on Criterion Channel, during long downtimes in some stressful things I had to do.

This time I found myself focusing on the sound design, which for some reason I particularly appreciated.
posted by theatro at 6:32 PM on December 3, 2022

Also I mentioned the movie today to a group of high school students touring my workplace, and one of them piped up that they agreed with it getting #1 on the Sight & Sound poll. I feel good about that!
posted by theatro at 1:16 PM on December 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Overall it didn't do it for me. The first two hours went quickly and I was (mostly) engaged, but I think i just ran out of things to keep me interested in what happened on screen, though I rallied for the last thirty minutes.

I may have zoned out completely during button quest. Oh, also, did she pick up the shoes at 4????? Important to know!

It felt a bit corny that the breakdown moment was a murder. (Though I thought she could have a job as an assassin, that guy died easy! Maybe they'll explore this in Jeanne Dielman 23 quai du Commerce 1018 Bruxelles II). The article above quotes Akerman correcting the idea that the film ends with a murder; there are "seven strong minutes" afterwards. I did not think they were strong enough minutes. The murder was just too much to sit with. No shade on Delphine Seyrig but it felt empty to me. I refused to do the movie's work anymore. I cut the connection in those minutes.

The sound was mixed so prominently it reminded me of the swinging dining room door in M. Hulot's Holiday and I found myself thinking things like: This is like Tati, with the humor removed -- unless you count her attempts to affection-smush the baby lmao.

It didn't blow my socks off but I'm glad I watched it.
posted by fleacircus at 5:57 PM on December 11, 2022

We watched this for my online movie club this week, and I thought I was very clever to identify at least some of the recent positive response to people’s experience of quarantine. Alas there are no new ideas!

The ending of the film genuinely shocked me.
posted by jeoc at 7:13 AM on January 27

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