A Tribute to Chantal Akerman: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Co-presented by La Collectionneuse, VEGGIECLOUD, Women of Cinefamily & LA Filmforum

When Chantal Akerman, who died this past month, presented Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce-1080 Bruxelles at the Cannes Film Festival in 1975, she was only 25 (she was 24 when she directed it). The film, which chronicles a few days in the life of Dielman: a single mother and widow, played by Delphine Seyrig, is now understood to be a behemoth in the history of feminist filmmaking.

Brilliantly adopting the meditative long-takes of structuralist cinema found in the experimental, non-narrative works of directors such as Michael Snow, Akerman uses these techniques to examine the alienation of our housewife protagonist. In stunning wide shots and real time, we observe the repetitive choreographies of Jeanne’s life: peeling potatoes, sponging her body, turning tricks in the afternoon. But all that remains unvoiced cannot be outrun, and her perfectly executed daily routines start to falter. The timing falls off. A coil starts to glow.

Deliberate and frugal, but also symphonic, Jeanne Dielman was made by a young woman but with all the gravity of an examined life, and raised many of the questions that remain prescient about the female voice, concealed labor, and the nature of care.

In light of Akerman’s recent passing, the film seems imbued with symmetry; the numbered hours in Jeanne’s day (never enough) echoes the finite works in an artist’s’ life, and Jeanne’s quiet domestic rebellion predicts Akerman’s own cinematic one—an expansive, unflinching approach to the medium that would remain persistent throughout her work.

Chantal Akerman (1950-2015).

Dir. Chantal Akerman, 1975, 35mm, 201 min.