Monday, 3 August 2009


One of the more testing cinematic experiments, Chantal Akerman’s magnum opus concerns Jeanne Dielman, a woman who simultaneously fulfils all three “feminine roles”: the virgin, the mother and the whore. By day, Jeanne is the paradigmatic housewife, silently and dutifully going about her chores, a near-colourless cardigan primly draped around her shoulders. Later in the day, we see her interact with her adolescent son, mostly feeding him and assisting with his homework, but also patiently answering some personal questions. In the evenings, we learn that she is prostituting herself from home as a means of income. During these diverse errands, Jeanne gives away almost nothing of her emotional state. After witnessing a few days of this routine, we start to see the influences that upset and liberate this seemingly unshakable structure.

Those expecting this film to succumb to the conventions of cinema may be bitterly disappointed. At 201 minutes, each shot lasting several minutes and the camera never moving, it requires more than a little patience and broadmindedness. Akerman revels in the muted dramas of woman’s existence, creating from them not a story but a diorama. Throughout the film, an electric blue light flickers on reflective surfaces, reminiscent of a static television, or a police light. This conjures ideas of surveillance and objectification, two activities in which we as viewers are complicit. It’s an exceptionally brave and influential piece – Michael Haneke surely picked up a few lessons on suspense from it – but sadly unlikely to touch the people it should.

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