Above anything, Chantal Ackerman's 201-minute 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, is. It just is. It is a very still, very detailed portrait of domesticity, as it follows three days worth of its titular character's daily tasks (especially household chores), with what seems like a non-averting camera. Not long into my viewing, my boyfriend walked in the room and asked me if this was "like a reality show." In fact, it is the inverse: on reality TV, relatively real people are put into fantasy situations to have their behavior chopped down into something consumable. In this, an actress is put into banal situations, and many of which are seemingly deemed too precious to be scarred by the editor's knife. The end result is, in fact, difficult. In its portrait of daily routine (and gentle unraveling), Jeanne Dielman confronts us firmly with what cinema typically believes is unimportant. Part of the way to gauge if you think the movie's a success is whether it convinces you otherwise.
In honor of today's DVD release (via Criterion, of course), I tried to block out the necessary three hours and 21 minutes on Sunday to watch it. My goal was to view it uninterrupted and to record my thoughts live-blog style for my very own portrait of (different but similarly banal) domesticity. Much like Jeanne, though, I found myself knocked off course...
3:03 – So, she's having a man over and taking her into her room, but closing the door. So we don’t get to watch the sex? What kind of investment in realism is that?
3:59 – She's getting paid after the sex? Really? It's a different world. I don't think we're at the Point anymore. (Shoutout to Schoolteacher.)
4:57 – I love that she turned a trick while her potatoes boiled. Multitasking and efficient.
6:24 – So far, this woman hasn’t stopped moving. She goes into a room, she turns the light off, she goes into another room, she turns the light off. And again and again. Is she a coke whore?
6:50 – Boobs!
She’s totally doing a tops-and-tails whore’s bath. This isn't the least bit boring!
10:05 – She goes from naked...
...within two frames. Why edit that out? Is there a secret to what’s not being kept in? I'm starting to doubt Chantal Ackerman's commitment to long-windedness.
12:28 – How were you a hooker housewife back in the day before the Internet? Did you get your start at gloryholes, and hopefully the word spread from there? Was it a grassroots whore-job scene? Is there a book I can read on this subject? I want to know...for a friend. This is not pertinent to this table setting scene, and yet my mind wandered there.
13:02 – Do you think that it was a narrow market, and someone of her age and dowdiness was able to make money just because she was in business? When the demand for hookers overwhelmed the supply, those where the days. Says my friend.
14:43 – Soup! It’s so warming.
15:15 – This kid [it turns out to be her kid] has been in the house for about two minutes and they’ve yet to speak. He isn’t even looking at her. Why isn’t he looking at her?!
15:50 – Ha! She just yelled at him not to read while he eats. I like this Jeanne Dielman. (A flashback of my father from my childhood made me say that.)
17:05 – I guess they’re eating cream of potato, but I feel cheated out of getting to watch her combine the cream and potatoes.
19:40 – They didn’t subtitle “Oui oui.” Don’t they know we’re going to start thinking they’re eating piss without clarification?
25:44 – Jeanne is reading a letter from Aunt Fernande. It talks about her children’s height, a snow day and learning to drive. Mostly, it suggests that being boring is genetic.
26:13 – Jeanne’s a widow of six years! I guess the letter did have a purpose. Exposition, exposition, exxxxxpppppooooosssssiiiiittttttiiiiiooooonnnnn.
30:09 – Jeanne just busting out her knitting. I think it’s a good time for me to nap.
(After 10 minutes of the DVD on pause...)
30:45 – "Für Elise" is on. This reminds me of a vintage McDonald's commercial.
"And also whoops," is my new motto. I mean, it never wasn't, I just didn't realize it.
33:02 – She seriously worked on that sweater for 2 minutes, if that. At this rate, she won’t get anything done!
33:46 – They’re putting on coats! I’m so excited! It's the little things. My first job out of college (in 2001, post-dot com implosion, pre-9/11) was a temp job that took me, like, two months to find. It was at a company that published these industry-specific directories. Everyone was listed for free (money was made via sales of the books). So free, that they didn't even ask to be listed. My job was to call these people and confirm their contact info, for these unsolicited listings that they didn't even give a fuck about anyway. I had a phone and a pen. Literally, no computer. The highlight of my day was faxing the people I couldn't reach by phone. I'm not even lying, it was comparatively pleasurable. Jeanne's and her son's coats are the directory-company fax machines of this movie.
34:41 – Such a cool shot:
35:38 – I just peed. On way back from bathroom grabbed Cheetos and Coke Zero. Consuming.
36:30 – What did they just do, walk around the block? Why are we being deprived of this information? If I’m gonna watch this woman unbutton every button, I want to know everything.
40:42 – She says getting married was “the thing to do.” She’s still doing things. The more things change...!
41:30 – “Making love is merely a detail.” Only sometimes. This is not so when it's conspicuously missing from an otherwise compulsively detailed three-and-a-half hour movie you're watching about a hooker housewife.
43:04 – End of first day.
43:40 – Full of inconsequential minutiae, this is like Twitter: The Movie.
46:41 – I hear Rudy trapped in the bedroom crying. Letting him out.
48:51 – Rudy’s tail is wagging in my peripheral vision. I have to concentrate on not watching it. It’s more tempting than watching Jeanne polish her son’s shoes.
49:54 – It is nice, though, to encounter a movie where you can spend a minute on a note, look up, and learn that you missed absolutely nothing.
51:35 – I can’t argue with my boyfriend about nonsense that I'll go on to forget two days later over this woman’s coffee grinding!
52:30 – Her kettle sounds like locusts. I feel like my hearing is more sensitive because what’s happening in front of my eyes is so pedestrian. It’s like relative blindness, and my hearing is compensating.
56:40 – My window is open. Someone is loudly making calls somewhere within earshot. I hear the sound of a cell phone speaker ringing over and over. I prefer the locust kettle.
57:30 – Love how the sofa bed folds!
57:44 – This movie could also be called The Sound of Water between the constant plopping of the bath, the boiling and the sink. I crave variation so much, I hope during her next meal, Jeanne smacks her saliva.
59:01 – She’s washing dishes with her back to us, btw. Ironically, it’s now that it strikes me how in-your-face this is about domesticity.
1:04:45 – She keeps her money in a bowl on the dining room table. Probably because it’s yummy.
1:06:52 – I just calculated (by calculator) how many hours 201 minutes is, even though I already figured the answer in my head. I wanted to make sure and I also don’t feel like watching someone wait at what I think is a post office. Waiting drives me crazy. I proactively edit waiting out my my life. I don't want it in my movies.
1:14:09 – She’s riding an elevator. I didn’t know she had to do that to get back into her house. This movie keeps holding out. Or maybe it just wanted to ease us into the elevator-riding. It could come off as shocking, given the context.
1:18:50 – Someone just dropped off a baby in a golf bag.
I guess this is why she just told her friend she couldn’t have coffee with her. There is something satisfying in all the resolution of this movie. They eat, she washes dishes. She says she has something to do, she does it. She buys food, she cooks it. Cause and effect is law.
1:25:34 – Does everyone in this movie just have nothing to say for real?
1:27:47 – Does Jeanne Dielman ever shit? I have to pee again.
1:28:03 – On the way back from the bathroom, I grabbed water and some pumpernickel and onion pretzels. The bag ripped so I had to transport them in a baggie. Also, my boyfriend just informed me that Ryan Jenkins was found dead so I have to write about that and make calls/texts.
(After 45 minutes of the DVD on pause...)
1:29:25 – I love this shot:
1:31:15 – This woman drinks so much coffee, I’m guessing she’s hooking to pay for the beans. She’s a joe whore.
1:33:15 – I'm thinking this is the perfect top-of-post shot:
No wait, I want to comment on it directly. She just sat there staring and then left. I feel like Jeanne is fucking with us.
1:38:54– Isn’t it true that French babes don’t shave their pits?
Buzz’s prophecy, realized. (Oops, Belgian, duh. Still, I miss Buzz.)
1:45:44 – Is the fact that we’re just seeing her peel potatoes now after watching her cook them twice (she just fucked up the last batch and had to go to the store to get more) supposed to signal that no matter how complete you try to make it, there’s more to tell in even the simplest of stories?
1:51:55 – It’s weird that she never stares straight ahead. I mean, it’s not like anywhere else she looks is particularly fascinating.
1:52:45 – They could have had mashed potatoes but they’re having that tomorrow. This movie could also be called Potato Party.
1:58:50 – Why am I not surprised that she doesn’t know how to write back her sister? Verbal communication is not her strong suit.
2:00:56 – I don’t know why this woman cannot knit more than, I don’t know, a single pearl at a time. I guess she likes the idea of commitment but is ultimately afraid of it.
Again, I'm not surprised.
2:14:29 – Peeing.
2:20:00 – This Ryan Jenkins thing really set me off course. I’ve been texting and stuff way more than I wanted to. Amazingly, a post-murder suicide is enough to distract me from Jeanne hand-drying cutlery.
2:28:00 – The scene lasts until till the elevator has (slowly) ascended all the way out of frame. How's that for completion?
2:30:00 – A source of genuine excitement: she nicked a milk bottle with a plate and it threatened to topple!!!!
2:31:35 – I am officially mesmerized by her kneading of meatloaf. Am I this movie’s bitch?
(She does this for about three minutes and 30 seconds.)
2:34:00 – Perfection:
2:39:15 – My BlackBerry charger has been in the wall charging no BlackBerry for some time now. I have to unplug it.
2:48:38 – Another gorgeous shot:
If you took all the different beautiful shots, you could make a flip book running for approximately one second.
2:53:00 – This baby’s crying comes close to being as aggressive as Drag Me To Hell’s sound design
2:54:00 – It’s like he’s choking and he can’t shut up.
2:55:00 – A thought: bored and whored rhyme. I know this movie is in French, but still...
3:00:25 – Jeanne's on the hunt for a button to match this jacket her sister sent from Canada for her son. She cannot find a perfect match. A woman suggests changing buttons on a garment makes it look new. This woman would go on to make millions in the repurposing-vintage-shit-and-selling-it-for-several-hundred-times-what-it-cost market.
3:01:20 – Someone’s at her café table!
Jeanne is not amused!
3:08:41 – I just opened this IMDb thread and then decided I didn’t want to read the replies yet. Holding out hope for a twist!
3:10:09 – This, ladies and gentlemen, is as close as we’re gonna get, I bet:
3:11:30 – This really might be the most disturbing sex scene I’ve ever seen for sheer lack of knowledge of what the hell is going on in everyone’s heads. I can't tell who's enjoying what or whose genitals are more miserable.
3:13:55 – Holy shit, brilliance. Not a twist per se, but complete and utter pay off. Worth the price of admission. I’m not even giving it away.
My final evaluation is that Jeanne Dielman is something you can only appreciate as a whole. I’ll never watch it again, but I’m so glad that I did. I do appreciate it as a statement on what movies aren't, but more than that, I found it comforting, like being a child and being perfectly occupied by watching your mother’s domesticity.
Interestingly (and here's a pretty big spoiler), Ackerman states during the bonus interview conducted specifically for this DVD release that Jeanne has her first orgasm while hosting her second client (we see three all together), and that begins her unraveling. After that point, her hair is out of place, she screws up the potatoes she has cooking, she fails to cover her money bowl, etc. “Never having an orgasm is what held her together," explains Ackerman. Uh, that's weird. But anyway, while you can sense that after the second john, Jeanne is altered and settling into the throes of despair, we of course have no real knowledge of her sexual history, which I think could have somehow worked its way into these 201 fucking minutes, but whatever, I'm not going to get mad because it's over and I guess it's merely a detail, anyway.