Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) is a widowed housewife who now lives only with her teenage son Sylvain Dielman (Jan Decorte). Jeanne spends her day mostly working around their house: taking care of cleaning the dishes, preparing dinner, organizing, and tidying up. She has a set routine she sticks to and largely goes about her daily household business. It is only interrupted briefly in the afternoon, when she prostitutes herself to help pay the bills. Her son, oblivious to her prostitution, doesn't realize their financial situation and still expects her to clean, cook, and serve him dinner each night. He goes to school and reads his paper and books each night.
The film was both critically lauded and rejected by many audience members when it first premiered. The film purposefully meanders and is told as a sometimes glacial pace. At 3 1/2 hours long, the film mostly consists of the audience experiencing the life of Jeanne Dielman as she cleans, cooks, and tends to the house. The film only briefly has sequences with Jeanne Dielman and her son having discussions. We learn about how she became widowed, we hear a letter written to her by a friend which she reads to her son, and we see her exchange brief conversation when mailing a letter and going out to find a clothing-repair person.
Yet the film is not boring. Instead, it is an absorbing, thoughtful, and masterful filmmaking experience from a brilliant filmmaker. Every frame and sequences is so meticulously done that it's clear Chantal Akerman had a precise vision for this film. The experience is truly stunning. While some audience members rejected the film for its long scenes of Jeanne Dielman washing dishes, cleaning, and cooking it's clear the film is a deep and thoughtful exploration of the lives of women who had to do such housework on a daily basis, and which had never before been presented in such a precise, clear way in filmmaking.
Chantal Akerman stated the inspiration for the film was from her mother's work in the kitchen and around her house which she grew up seeing. She wanted to present these daily, repetitive tasks so many women have had to do and shine a light on them as undervalued aspects of life. The story does take some surprising twists and turns along the way and it makes for a riveting experience. This film is a gripping portrait which doesn't let you go.
The cinematography by Babette Mangolte (Seven Easy Pieces, La chambre, Hotel Monterey) is exquisite. The style of the cinematography is superb and the framing is perfection. The film is majestic to behold: like an exquisite painting. Mangolte has a meticulous style here which is superb throughout. The use of color is also mesmerizing and perfectly stylized for the story.
The art direction by Philippe Graff (Friday or Another Day, Dying to Go Home) also perfectly complements the rest of the filmmaking. The house and atmosphere feels so genuine and it makes the film a more compelling one.
The film was edited by Patricia Canino (The Choice, Colours for Tears). Though part of an editors job is to make a film shorter, it is far from the only thing an editor has to do: pacing is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking. Even in a long film like this one, the pacing is an important aspect. Canino did well to respect the creative approach of director Akerman as the film is such a deep contemplation on space and time. It makes the film that much more powerful that scenes most editors would cut out are instead given time to be explored.
Though the typical thought for most films is quick cuts, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles works wonders with long takes that don't cut away for several minutes at a time, including a scene over 7 minutes long at the end which is simply Jeanne Dielman sitting at a table and yet it is utterly riveting. Akerman and Canino make the film more compelling through this unique and visionary approach.
Written and Directed by Chantal Akerman, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is an ambitious, audacious, and confident film from a brilliant filmmaker who articulated such a precise vision at the young age of 25. Her work here is so impressive: filmmaking is rarely ever this brilliant and visionary, let alone from a first-time feature filmmaker. Akerman tells this story in a way that only she could have done and the result is a lasting piece of cinema which is still discussed to this day. This is unquestionably an important work of cinema which should continued to be discovered and discussed. The work of a master filmmaker.
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles arrives on Blu-ray with an excellent 1080p high definition presentation in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 widescreen. The film has received a new 2K digital restoration. This is a superb presentation of the film. Criterion has done a tremendous job restoring the film and it looks pristine with great color depth, clarity, and detail. The cinematography by Babette Mangolte shines on this excellent release.
The film is presented with uncompressed lossless PCM audio in 24 bit depth. This is a mono audio 1.0 presentation which preserves the original sound design. Dialogue is crisp and easy to understand. Though the film is mostly silent, the audio is well preserved and pristine when the film has dialogue and sound.
Presented in French with English subtitles.
This release includes a booklet featuring an essay written by Ivone Margulies.
On disc extras include:
Autour de Jeanne Dielman (69 min.,SD), a documentary shot by Sami Frey, edited by Agnes Ravel and Chantal Akerman , was produced during the production of Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which showcases the process of the direction. It's a great, must-see behind-the-scenes documentary which even includes moments showcasing how the director and star rehearsed several scenes.
Chantal Akerman: On Jeanne Dielman (20 min., HD) is an interview with the writer-director about the film, it's importance, and her lasting legacy as a filmmaker.
Chantal Akerman: On Filmmaking (17 min., SD)is taken from the episode Chantal Akerman par Chantal Akerman, where the filmmaker discusses her work and approach to film and life. From the French program cinema de notre temps.
Chantal Akerman and Delphine Seyrig (7 min., SD) are interviewed together in a segment from a French television program which aired in 1976. The director and star of the film discuss Jeanne Dielman and their views on the story and its importance.
Babette Mangolte (23 min., HD), cinematographer of Jeanne Dielman, is interviewed about the film and about her work with Akerman on several other films. She discusses their meeting and working together over the years.
Natalie Akerman (28 min., SD), Chantal Akerman's mother, is interviewed by her daughter about her filmmaking and about Jeanne Dielman.
Saute Ma Ville (13 min., HD) is a 1968 short film which shares many of the same ideas and themes of Jeanne Dielman, which was the first short film made by director Chantal Akerman, starring herself, made when she was 18. Includes optional intro (1 min.) from Chantal Akerman.
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a rare work of art. It's a masterful film from a brilliant filmmaker (whose vision as an artist is so clear and precise). The film is unquestionably brilliant. It features a terrific performance by Delphine Seyrig. The story has surprising turns that keep it interesting and engaging to the end.
Criterion has released a must own Blu-ray featuring exceptional PQ/AQ and an absorbing collection of supplements. As with all the best releases by the Criterion Collection, the release is a great educational resource for any budding artists or filmmakers interested in the process. This is certainly a well-rounded release (which includes Akerman's first short film), which fans of Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles will appreciate seeing.
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