“‘Jeanne Dielman’ belongs to the rare class of films capable of transforming the world around you, though it requires the kind of patience and dedication that can be hard to come by at home,” writes the LA Times’ Sam Adams in a piece on Chantal Akerman’s 1975 landmark feminist film which gets an overdue DVD release this week courtesy of Criterion. “The reward is a new sense of connection to actions that normally pass without thought, a sense that every flip of a light switch is an experience to be savored for its pure physical sensation, a step in a dance that never ends.”
Ivone Margulies, Akerman scholar, has an essay on the film on Criterion’s blog. “Stretching its title character’s daily household routine in long, stark takes, Akerman’s film simultaneously allows viewers to experience the materiality of cinema, its literal duration, and gives concrete meaning to a woman’s work… ‘Jeanne Dielman’ constitutes a radical experiment with being undramatic, and paradoxically with the absolute necessity of drama.”
The New York Times’ Dave Kehr notes that the film’s reissue coincides nicely with the recent release of Cassavetes’ exploration of the male psyche, “Husbands.” “Men carouse; women clean. There’s nothing revolutionary in that observation, but what’s fascinating about these two films is how the filmmakers borrow behavioral clichés from the opposite camp. Cassavetes’s men seem to be pure creatures of emotion, insisting on expressing their feelings for one another in the messiest, most public ways possible. And Jeanne remains a model of macho restraint, bottling up her feelings and barely speaking even to her son. Where Cassavetes’s characters are almost excessively in touch with their emotions, Ms. Akerman’s heroine exists in a state of nearly complete repression that leads to violent consequences at the film’s conclusion.”
“As several critics have pointed out over the years, Jeanne Dielman’s storyline verges on lip-smacking melodrama—hot single mom turns tricks to get by!—but Akerman has purged her tale of any traces of cheap thrills or sudsy emotionalism,” observes Nelson Kim at Hammer to Nail. “The movie’s formal strategy bears the influence of the minimalist/structuralist strains of 1960s and ’70s avant-garde filmmaking: Warhol, Straub and Huillet, Michael Snow, Ernie Gehr, and others who pushed the limits of spareness, slowness, duration, and repetition. Nearly three and a half hours long, Jeanne Dielman is a severe and demanding viewing experience, but if you’re up for the challenge, you might leave the theater convinced you’ve seen one of the towering masterpieces of modern cinema.”
As far as extras, Jamie S. Rich at DVD Talk reports that the two-disc set “has a generous helping of bonus features. The lead bonus is a 69-minute documentary made during the production of the movie. Entitled ‘Autour de Jeanne Dielman,’ it was shot by actor Sami Frey and edited in part by Chantal Akerman. Captured on black-and-white video (and showing the signs of such), the documentary collects long sequences of planning and rehearsing, largely a back and forth between the director and her actress (later in the film with crew around, but earlier, mainly on their own). It’s interesting to see how much Delphine Seyrig pushes the young filmmaker to give her more.”
Read an interview with Akerman at The House Next Door.
Watch a scene from “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” on YouTube.