When we talk about experimental cinema alongside the women in the avant-garde and their contribution to changing the way we see films. Two prominent Belgium born, Chantel Akerman and Agnes Varda, are far and away the most accomplished filmmakers. While Agnes was rooting for her venture with the burst of the French New Wave era (the 1960’s), Chantel Akerman had significant influence from Jean Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou. Thereon, she presented her first short Saute Ma Ville(1961), regarded as “the mirror image of Jeanne Dielman,” a damsel woman having her reclusive time in the kitchen until it turns into an apocalyptic finish. Akerman’s most prominent work was still yet to come, to inspire, and, to influence the many generations of filmmaking.
Chantel Akerman’s 1975 film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, is an over-three-hour intrinsic study of a widow (Delphine Seyrig) doing domestic drudgery of keeping her abode in a pattern of extremely disciplined and relentless actions. A film which transgresses to three days depicts the round-the-clock chores of cooking, shopping, and, a deadpan part of the day where she entertains clients for sex in exchange for the money. Jeanne lives with her son Sylvain(Jan Decorte) whose droopy presence coalesce the ever-present dullness in the air except when she switches on the radio to fill it up. Akerman’s systemic routine shows how indelible one person’s task can be, at the same time, keeping the viewer transfix to the smallest of the detail on the screen. We move to the second day to find out the slightest dishevelment in Jeanne’s routine like overcooked potatoes eventually leads to late dining and the sullen vibes flow through her actions on the last day. Akerman’s approach of storytelling can seem too ordinary but it, somehow, pile up the austerity of filmmaking in a disquiet world.
Jeanne Dielman is a sheer practice of a soul-scraping for freedom and the great obligations attached to it. Seen as an enclosed soul, Jeanne is creating a friction between the two ways of life and hence keeping the responsibilities of a mother afloat. Besides her unrepresented struggles, Jeanne reflects the notion of time in the life of a human which is spent doing something without the consciousness of the meaning. While upping the value of time, Akerman is creating a pattern of routine tediously consumed in peeling potatoes to preparing meat. There’s a confining view of Jeanne’s life brushing with claustrophobia when left with a feeling of contemplation. We often see Jeanne switching one room to another as if looking for something and not doing anything. Is it the feeling of keeping yourself busy so one can avoid overthinking? With Jeanne, it’s over too much.
A film so static and weary is having a crystal clear sound of actions creating a sense of appeal. The sounds of her clinking feet on tiles or clenching of the meat, these are the only things which connect us to her painful routine. Film’s cinematographer Babette Mangolte makes a hypnotic attempt with stark takes and lingering shots of her art nouveau home. This film takes an effort to sit and meditate the inflictions bestowed on mothers by ignoring most of their efforts. The secluded life of Jeanne is acute to her own shadow and when she takes a step out of it; It drenches of redness.