My Thoughts on Jeanne Dielman.

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[UPDATE – I just wanted to let everyone know I got a 100% on this paper!]

In my art theory class, we just watched Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles by Chantal Akerman (1975). I have to write a paper about it anyway, so I thought I’d post it here for anyone interested.

This film is long. Over 200 minutes long. (That’s more than 3 hours!) And for the most part, it’s extremely uneventful. The subject of the film is one Jeanne Dielman, a middle aged woman whom we gather throughout the film is a widowed mother of one son, and of French decent living in Belgium. That’s about all we learn about her though. Oh, and of course there’s the fact that she secretly prostitutes herself out of her own home to sustain herself and her teenage son.

But don’t get too excited, even that part of her life is portrayed uninterestingly. Jeanne Dielman chronicles Jeanne’s day-to-day chores and homely duties over three consecutive days. Painstakingly. Eventually, her routine begins to unravel, star
[UPDATE – I just wanted to let everyone know I got a 100% on this paper!]

In my art theory class, we just watched Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles by Chantal Akerman (1975).  I have to write a paper about it anyway, so I thought I'd post it here for anyone interested.

This film is long.  Over 200 minutes long.  (That's more than 3 hours!)  And for the most part, it's extremely uneventful.  The subject of the film is one Jeanne Dielman, a middle aged woman whom we gather throughout the film is a widowed mother of one son, and of French decent living in Belgium.  That's about all we learn about her though.  Oh, and of course there's the fact that she secretly prostitutes herself out of her own home to sustain herself and her teenage son.

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But don't get too excited, even that part of her life is portrayed uninterestingly.  Jeanne Dielman chronicles Jeanne's day-to-day chores and homely duties over three consecutive days.  Painstakingly.  Eventually, her routine begins to unravel, starting with her dropping a spoon, then she overcooks some potatoes, and then culminating on the third day when she seems to unexpectedly orgasm while servicing her “gentleman caller” for that day.  She then, surprisingly, stabs him with a pair of scissors; murdering him.

Everything about the film is stiffing and oppressive.  The shots are composed narrowly and statically, the conversations Jeanne has with her son – brief though they are – are superficial and flat.  Even the times that Jeanne ventures outside of her home are tense and short-lived.  Somehow, this woman manages to create pregnant pauses even when she is alone.

All of this is not to say that I hated Jeanne.  Sure, watching it was hard, but it was meant to be.  The film is bringing to the forefront of cinema the strictly imposed structuralism that was (and is) constraining women.  You can feel it too.  Like I said, this film is LONG, but I'm glad it is, because it really helps you connect with the character, and when Jeanne starts to be visibly frustrated with her life, you feel it too.  I remember thinking while watching the film at about two and a half hours in, “Finally! She's starting to feel what I was feeling after the first ten minutes!”

Do I have a too-short attention span for Jeanne Dielman?  Perhaps.  But what was really killing me about watching it was not that I particularly had plans that I was preoccupied by, or that I was totally disinterested with the film because I didn't get what it was trying to accomplish, but it was because she reminded me of myself.  When I saw her doing the dishes from the night before for twenty minutes, all I could think about was how I had been doing that exact same thing earlier that day.  When I watched her doing her makeup just before she saw a man, I knew that I do the same thing.  When I realized that she only spoke about three sentences throughout the course of a whole day, I remembered how little I had spoken aloud that day.

I didn't not like the film, I felt sorry for it.  I felt sorry for her.  I saw myself reflected in it, and I did not like what I saw.  So, the question is, why did Jeanne kill Man #3? Well, this film relates a lot to Guy Debord and his views on society.  Debord was a philosopher and critical theorist in the '60's and 70's.  In his seminal work, The Society of the Spectacle, Debord makes the case that actual social life has been replaced by representations.  Debord was concerned with the fact that commodities, images and mass media were going to interrupt any possibility of genuine human communication and that life would become more about having than about being.

So, how does this relate to Jeanne? Well, Jeanne's life is completely dictated by means other than her choosing.  She lives without any genuine human interactions, and she is pretty set in her ways.  I think that Debord would be proud of Jeanne at the end of the film, because it's only then that she exposes the trueness of her being and lives in the moment, violent and consequential though it may be.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce,1080 Bruxelles ends without resolving what happens to Jeanne after she murders Man #3.  The final scene shows her staring blankly while sitting at the table she would normally have had set for dinner by then, while wearing a bloody shirt.  What happens to Jeanne? Clearly that is not important.  What is important is that she finally managed to break free from the crushingly oppressive nature of this world, and is left weightless, euphoric, and alive.

 

For more information about the film, you can check out its Wiki or its IMDB.  For more information about Guy Debord, you can check him out here, or you can read the Society of the Spectacle online.