In Chantal Akerman’s ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,’ a series of mundane actions are transformed into hugely communicative gestures that keep the viewer suspended between a place of understanding the main character’s inner world and a place of total ambiguity. Akerman establishes a routine and then uses variations and interruptions in that routine to expose the protagonist’s psychology. Tasks such as cooking and cleaning become pure narrative, events in sequence moving forward in a suspenseful and ominous arc. In reducing a film to such actions, and imbuing them with meaning, these otherwise dull activities become compelling. Actions speak louder than words, and ‘Jeanne Dielman’ is cinema’s purest action movie.
Adam Cook is a Vancouver-based independent film critic, editor, and programmer. He is a regular contributor to Cinema Scope and a columnist for Little White Lies. He has written for, among others, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, Fandor, Indiewire, and Brooklyn Magazine.