Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Posted by martinteller on October 26, 2007
I don’t think I’ve ever had such mixed feelings about a film. Let me get the negatives out of the way first: this is tremendously tedious. I say this from the perspective of someone who adores Ming-liang Tsai and has been known to enjoy the work of Kiarostami on occasion. But Dielman was quite a trial. In the simplest terms, it’s 200 minutes of Delphine Seyrig doing housework. Let me describe one sequence: she sits down at the kitchen table, pours a cup of coffee with some milk. She tastes it, finds it unpleasant, and dumps it out. She pours a glass of milk, smells it, tastes it, and finds it satisfactory. She pours another cup of coffee, but it still doesn’t agree with her. She prepares a fresh pot of coffee. How long do you think you could take this? 2 minutes? 5 minutes? Try TEN.
And yet… it’s also quite genius. Akerman shows Dielman slowly falling apart in the most minute ways, but because of the monotonous attention to detail, it becomes glaringly obvious, even upsetting. You wouldn’t believe the tension that can be evoked simply because a woman puts plates away slightly differently from the way she did the day before. You wouldn’t believe how fascinating it is to watch her knead ground beef for five minutes (and kudos to Seyrig for a brilliantly subtle performance).
It all builds up to a climax which is simultaneously predictable as hell, quite thought-provoking, annoyingly cheap, and daringly executed. The whole thing is madness… frustrating, but in some ways wonderful, madness. Akerman may be female, but she’s got a hell of a set of balls on her. I have to give points for boldness and originality, and paving the way for Tsai and the like. On the other hand, I doubt I would ever sit through it again. Rating: 7