Monday, September 26, 2011

Links: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Vincent Canby reviewed Jeanne Dielman in the New York Times back in 1983 (8 years after the film was made), noting the film's roots in the art house style of the 1960s and making an important distinction between minimalism and naturalism:

"Like its blunt title, Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, deals in unadorned facts. It's about the looks and sounds of ordinary things and people, which it records with such precise, unsettling clarity that it has the effect of finding threats in mundane objects and doom in commonplace characters. . . .

Jeanne Dielman is not quite like any other film you've ever seen, though it does recall the early films of Jean-Luc Godard as well as some of the work of our structuralist film makers of the late 1960's and 70's. It's as fastidious and deadpanned as its title character, a genteel, middle-class widow-and-mother who supports herself and her teen-age son by prostitution each afternoon, in her depressingly tidy apartment, with a series of fastidious gentlemen callers, middle-aged and older.

Jeanne Dielman, which opens today at the Film Forum, has been described as minimalist, though I don't see how any film this long and so packed with information could be equated with minimalism as defined in painting. The manner of the film is spare, but the terrible, obsessive monotony of the life it observes is ultimately as melodramatic as, say, Roman Polanski's Repulsion.

Miss Akerman records three crucial days in the life of Jeanne Dielman (Miss Seyrig) as if she were observing the habits of some previously unknown insect."

25 years later, Dennis Lim wrote about the film in the Times, noting its widespread influence on contemporary art house filmmaking:

"it has long enjoyed canonical status among cinephiles and regularly turns up on critics’ polls of all-time great films. With Jeanne Dielman, Ms. Akerman forged a link between the high modernism of golden-age European cinema and the emerging trend of postmodernist deconstruction. Today the film’s observational strategies — its long takes and scrupulous framing — practically amount to a lingua franca of international art film, discernible in the works of artists from Portugal’s Pedro Costa to Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul to China’s Jia Zhangke. Among American independents, its descendants include Todd Haynes’s Safe, Lodge Kerrigan’s Claire Dolan and Gus Van Sant’s Last Days."

Lim also talked to Ackerman herself, who agrees that the film is far from minimalist:

"While Ms. Akerman acknowledges that the rise of women’s studies lifted the film’s reputation in the United States, she has little patience for the various “isms” — feminism, minimalism, structuralism — that have framed the discussion around it. “I don’t think it’s minimalist,” she said. “I think it’s maximalist. It’s big! And if I did the film now I don’t know that it would be called feminist. It could have been done about a man, too.

“All those labels are a bit annoying,” she continued. “To name something is a way to possess it. I think it makes the film smaller. And O.K., maybe they are right, but they are never right enough.”"

When they released the film on DVD, Criterion sponsored a web video cooking contest to go along with the distinctive cooking scenes in Jeanne Dielman.  Here are some of their favorites.

Personally, I think everyone's underrating the influence of this film on Phil Hartman's career:

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