Quick recap: Jeanne Dielman is a single mother who spends her days meticulously cleaning the house,cooking, shopping, and prostituting herself out as a source of income. That’s the entire movie. All 3 hours and 21 minutes.
Fun (?) fact: The director, Chantal Akerman, used a female only crew to make the film. She later said that it didn’t work out as well as she had hoped it would, because she was not in charge of which woman would be hired.
My thoughts: It’s an understatement to say that I dreaded watching this movie. For one, it’s FRENCH. Secondly, it’s labeled under the genre ‘art house’, and finally, it was 3 hours and 21 minutes long. And for 3 hours and 15 minutes, I had to sit through watching a woman clean her house and cook food. FOR 3 HOURS AND 15 MINUTES, YOU GUYS.
The movie opens with Jeanne Dielman letting a client into her home so they can have sex. My hopes were high at this point, that this would be more interesting than I had hoped. Dielman leads the man down the hall, closes the door, and……..that’s it. No sounds, nothing. The two emerge after it has gotten dark. The man pays Dielman and tells her that she will see him next week. Dielman then goes back to her routine of cleaning and cooking until her son comes home. Once again, my hopes were raised as the two of them sat down for dinner, but nobody said a word. Instead, I was treated to 15 minutes of people eating soup and then eating potatoes with stew. It didn’t take long for me to catch on that this was how the whole movie would play out.
In all fairness, I actually started to enjoy the film. As grating as it was to watch chores being played out in real time, I could fathom even less having to do that EVERY DAY. And as annoying as it was to sit through 3 hours and 15 minutes of this woman’s routine, it was necessary to understand her oppression. It just wouldn’t have worked to have a montage of Dielman doing her daily chores and looking mournfully at the screen while some sad song played. The only way to understand was to live it. It also made the scene where her routine starts unraveling (she drops a spoon) more noticeable. I appreciate that the director didn’t have to spell it out for the audience, but trusted that after sitting through 3 hours and 21 minutes of this woman’s life, we would figure it out.
The last 10 or so minutes of the film account for the only action to take place. SPOILER ALERT( not that you are going to run out and watch this, but just in case), during a session with a client, Dielman orgasms. After a conversation with her son earlier in the movie, I gather that this might have been the first ever for her. I suppose it empowers her or something because as she is putting her clothes on and the man is lying on the bed, she calmly goes over to him and stabs him to death with a pair of scissors. The last scene in the film is of her sitting in the darkened dining room, with blood on her shirt and hands and I think she is smiling.
This film is considered to be one of the best feminist films out there, and I suppose I agree, although I don’t have much knowledge on the subject. Halfway through the movie, I started to become genuinely concerned for Dielman. I wondered what legacy she will have left, years from now. Will she only be seen as a caring mother? Probably. For me, the bleakest scenes came on the last day, as she sat quietly with nothing to do. It was as if her routine was her entire life: her enjoyment, her hobbies, and her passion. So if she didn’t have these routines, she was nothing. I’m not sure what to take from that, but at least I understood the feminist movement in the 70’s a little better.
Final review: 4/5. This was a hard one to pin down because there is no way in hell that you could pay me to sit through this again, yet I still enjoyed the movie.
Up nextM:r. Deeds Goes to Town