I can think of several people who will not like this film. There are two clear attributes against it straight out of the gate. The first is running time: Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles is two hundred and one minutes long. The second is that it is minimalist cinema at its finest; there barely seems to be a script, and about one-third of the film is watching Delphine Seyrig, starring as Jeanne Dielman, cooking.
But those are not the two reasons I would wager that the previously mentioned “several people” would not like the film. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles is well regarded as one of the greatest feminist motion pictures.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles centers around Jeanne Dielman, a widowed single mother whose life focus is her son. She maintains the home and tries to keep everything ready for him. In order to make ends meet, she chooses to be a sex worker and makes certain that she has sufficient time to entertain clients during the day while keeping her life regimented and orderly.
The film takes place over three days and the first day seems perfect. Everything happens exactly as planned, as we are given time to get to know Jeanne and feel almost like we are a part of her world. She makes dinner, has a client over, bathes, eats dinner with her son, they go for a walk, and they go to bed; it is a window into her day. Our relationship repeats through the second day of regimented chores until, during dinner preparation, things start to unravel when she realizes that she is missing an ingredient that she must rush out to purchase and after dinner, when she is putting her son to bed, he tries to start a conversation about sex and relationships that she is not prepared to have.
The writer and director Chantal Akerman uses the slow and deliberate shots to convey the pace of life and hands us a glimpse into the life of a loving mother. It is difficult for me to understand Jeanne’s decisions. Has she put aside ambition for her family, or is her family her ambition? What I do know is that the film is an education on the life of a mother who is doing what she can for her family to survive. There is a lot that we don’t see; with a minimal script and a lot that is not handed to us, we are there, together, reflecting on ourselves and we think about each other.
I think that it may be prudent in this time to refer you to an essay by Ivone Margulles, a professor in New York who, literally, wrote the book on Chantal Akerman. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles is a very intricate and interesting film that deserves your time; the climax of the picture was abrupt and shocking, and it left me with questions and concerns for the future. My concern with a blanket recommendation is for the “many people” I mentioned early on; my fear is that it would have a negative effect on a closed mind. With that aside, I highly recommend Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles.