Essential rental: ‘Jeanne Dielman…’

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Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) is widely regarded as one of the all-time greatest cinematic challenges. The film is, in part, an interrogation of cinema as a medium, and the intensity and rigor of that interrogation is unmatched except perhaps in the films of those other masterful analytic provocateurs: Bresson, Warhol, Varda, Straub-Huillet, Godard, Snow, von Trier, etc.

But all of this has already been well-established. What really sets Jeanne Dielman… apart, at least for me, is the experience that the film unleashes upon its viewer: 201 unflinching minutes of pure investigation, yielding an almost effortless dissection of domestic automation, the discreet hegemony of gender roles and daily rituals, and the physical act of shooting a film. There’s nothing quite like Jeanne Dielman…: it’s the least boring 3+ hours of nearly dialogue-free cinema you’ll ever see.

The Criterion Collection’s new DVD release of the film is obviously exceptional. Four Star Video Heaven is now carrying the two-disc set, and having rented it just the other day, I feel compelled to recommend it very, very highly. The set also contains Akerman’s No-Wave-y cinematic finger-painting (and directorial debut) Saute ma ville (1968), which is something of a must-see in its own right.

As far as background literature on Jeanne Dielman… is concerned, there’s a very helpful essay on Criterion’s website by Akerman scholar Ivone Margulies (whose book, Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman’s Hyperrealist Everyday, sounds like a must-read). Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson’s collaborative analysis of the film, a short piece entitled “Kitchen Without Kitsch” (which can be found in the Farber collection Negative Space), is also worthy of a look. But the authoritative breakdown of the film is an extremely comprehensive paper written by UW-Madison professor Ben Singer, entitled “Jeanne Dielman…: Cinematic Interrogation and ‘Amplification'”, which can be found in the Winter 1989/Spring 1990 issue of Millenium Film Journal; a volume of Millenium Film Journals from 1989 is available at Memorial Library, so check it out.

You may find the prospect of a 201-minute time commitment more than slightly repellent, but trust me: You’ll never feel the same way about cinema, or about your apartment.

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