Day 344: ‘The Orderly Jeanne Dielman’ 2018

Day 344
Saturday 9, 2018
‘The Orderly Jeanne Dielman’ 2018

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
A Chantal Akerman Film

Top 100 Films –
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is equal #36 with Metropolis (1927) and Sátántangó (1994) in the 2012 BFI Critics Poll
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is equal #107 with Sátántangó amongst others in the 2012 BFI  Directors Poll

During the last 49 weeks I accidentally – at some point – came across an article about Chantal Akerman’s suicide in 2015. I didn’t realise the obituary would give important information about her filmmaking style but it did mention that she is known for her long takes and slow moving narrative. It probably was, in hindsight, a good alert, to prepare me for such purely observational filmmaking. Because I’ve seen Sátántangó in the last week, also with long takes, I decided to pair them up. I’m already in the mood for a lot images and a lot less words so it was good preparation. Nevertheless, Jeanne Dielman, was still a complete surprise and one of those films which left me perplexed about its place in the Top 100 Films on the Critics list (#36) and Directors, #107. It’s not that I’m implying it shouldn’t be on the list or that it doesn’t deserve it’s place – I’m just confused.

Is a film always important if it was one of the first films to do something unusual?

Because, to have complete takes of mundane household activities played out in real time is unusual. Especially if it means the film is going to run for 3½ hours. Questions I have are, “What does she (the writer-director) want to achieve?” “What effect does she want to have on the audience?” and “What’s the point?”

Was I bored? No. In fact, I was transfixed by watching her prepare Vienna Schnitzel, peel potatoes, wash dishes, go shopping and eat dinner. The film could have been halved by cutting those kind of scenes in half but I wonder what it would have taken away from the film to do that! Like Bela Tarr with Sátántangó, Chantal Akerman takes us further inside fictional life on the screen that most films would ever dare to approach. By watching things unfold so slowly it draws you in – like the Japanese films of Ozu or Ray’s Pather panchali – except that these films, by expanding the running time – can immerse you in the life or lives of the character/characters more than ever – if – you’re willing to spend the time allowing it to do so.