Sep 24, 2013

Notes on Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne has dinner and some Belgian ale with her son.

  • First off, there is the absurdity of whether I should reveal spoilers for the "plot" of this film in this space.  It is almost absurd because of the type of film it is in the first place.  And the length of the film.  And, honestly, because as much as I adore this motion picture made in 1975 about a widow living in Brussels, I know so few people that I could legitimately recommend the film to.  
  • This motion picture all about the domestic rituals of a widowed mother in Belgium in the Seventies has had a profound effect on my personal life in a couple of ways.  To wit, 
  • I have begun to pay closer attention to the sound of my personal solitude, and have come to treasure it.  In a nowadays culture bombarded with the stimulation of screens and music and teevee blare, it is refreshing to turn it all off, and read, and hear the noise of the wind, or the electric fan, or children speaking to their parents, or the noise it makes when I insert my keycard in to the washing machine, or the sound of my footsteps, or our kitty, Nora's permanent purr, the sound of a car wheel on gravel, birdsong, etc, ... 
  • Moreover, I have now realized the potential for a new personal ritual of my own, associated with this film.  I am normally off Sundays and Mondays, so last Saturday evening I took this film "to bed" with me, and fell asleep to its majestic and banal beauty.  I woke when the film ended, as I often do, and restarted it, and fell asleep again.  It was playing as I woke up for the morning.  I watched it unspool as the Wife did her Sunday rituals, and I did my own.  Then, before the Wife left, I moved the film in to the living room, and started it over again, just as I performed my Sunday domestic rituals (laundry, trash, recycling, breakfast, tea, the newspaper, magazines, books, etc, ... ) at home.  I am v eager to maintain this ritual, which is so comforting, reassuring and blissful to me.  Tranquil.
  • How does one recommend this film to others? It is two-hundred minutes long.  It concerns itself exclusively with the domestic rituals, and life, of a widow, her neighbors, and her son.  And others.  It is composed of exquisite, yet static shots.  Many of the shots do not contain a human subject, yet most do.  There are lengthy shots of Delphine Seyrig, as Ms Dielman, peeling potatoes.  Or making meatloaf.  Or making coffee.  Or "watching" the neighbor's infant, as Seyrig sits in a chair, doing nothing.  It is a film about the private inner monologue of Seyrig as she goes about her ways over three days in her life.  The inner monologue is only expressed through Seyrig's face, body posture, body language, or her relationship to the environment she is currently in.  There is very little dialogue.  And nearly all of it, is of a very stilted, heavily stylized, and rote nature.  There are surprises.  But, once again, should I share them? The film itself seems to suggest to me that I should reveal all.  But that goes against my artistic sensibilities.  This film stands in contrast to my and most others artistic or film-going sensibilities.  
  • Much like my budding new Saturday night/Sunday morning ritual with this film, I would also like to have this film play on a loop at my house.  Permanently, never ending.  It would give me comfort to go about my day with always the opportunity to see what Jeanne was up to at any particular moment.  There Jeanne goes, making breaded veal.  There she is listening to the radio.  There she is at the market.  There she is with her son at the dinner table.  There she is making the bed.  There she is taking a bath.  There she is turning another trick.  (Oh dear, I have given something away.)
  • I wonder if Chantal Akerman, the director, would feel alright with another powerful reason that I love this film.  Is Ms Akerman okay with the idea that I have sort of fallen in love with Jeanne? I love her smock when she is cooking.  I love the black stockings and chunky black character shoes.  I love the click click noise those shoes make on the wooden floors as she walks.  I love her somewhat stern, smothering relationship with her son.  I love her auburn hair.  Her cardigan sweaters.  I love her blue eye shadow and red lipstick.  I love her solitude.  Her quiet repose.  Her posture.  Her womanliness.  Her face as she listens.  I love near everything about her.  Watch the film and think what that says about her and me.  
  • On that Sunday morning that I spoke of the neighbors above started playing Led Zeppelin.  It was not too loud.  It was at a normal volume.  But I was furious.  Because my shared solitude with Jeanne had been shattered.  Our quiet sacred time of Sunday morning ritual had been intruded upon by outside media and forces.  The neighbors left after just a few songs, and Jeanne and I breathed a sigh of relief.  I had some tea.  Ms Dielman had some coffee from a thermos.  
  • When I did finally turn the film off that Sunday morning.  I was saddened, and actually found myself missing her for a couple of moments.
  • Another of the most eloquent, lovely, and powerful things about the film is the lighting at the house Jeanne lives in.  It is immaculately accurate to what time of the day it should be.  And in the evening scenes, you can see the street life reflect on the back and side walls with projections of light and movement.  It is as if there is a whole other life, "film", playing on the walls of their room as they conduct their own film at 23, quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles.  Jeanne and her son do have some contact with that other film.  But we know very little about it.  It is just one of the splendid extra mysteries of this magical film.  
  • Lastly, I know her name is pronounced zhahn.  But, I have given her a nickname.  I like to call her genie.  

A gentleman caller.

Ardent Henry

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