I reviewed Criterion’s release of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman last week on my blog here. I wrote a separate review, from a different perspective with more detail on the production, for the Turner Classic Movies website.
Chantal Akerman was 25 years old when she made Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), a 200 minute movie where (as critics are so fond of saying) nothing happens, at least nothing that we are used to seeing on screen. Perhaps it takes the audacity of youth to create something so unprecedented, ambitious, aggressively defiant and demanding. After all, enfant artiste terrible Orson Welles was the same age when he made Citizen Kane. Jeanne Dielman is in many ways Akerman’s Kane, a shot across the bow of the filmmaking world and the film that continues to be hailed as her masterpiece. Criterion’s DVD release is an event, the American home video debut of a film rarely seen in any form in the U.S.
Akerman traces her interest in filmmaking back to a viewing of Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou when she was fifteen years, while her philosophy and style was greatly influenced by the East Coast experimental filmmakers like Jonas Mekas and Michael Snow, whose films she watched during a long stay in New York City in the early seventies. You can see their echoes in her exacting direction and dedication to temporal integrity. But the film is also a reflection of her life (she grew up surrounded by women) and her frustration that such lives were never shown on screen, as if they had no value. After a career of self-financed shorts and features, she applied for funds for a more ambitious feature on the life of a housewife. As she worked on her screenplay, she pared away subplots and eliminated characters to focus on Jeanne’s life in her apartment. And to see her vision through, she put together a predominantly female crew, which was difficult in the mid-seventies when women had yet to enter many professions.
Read the complete review on TCM.com here.