Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Genres - Avant-garde / Experimental  |   Sub-Genres - Feminist Film  |   Release Date - May 14, 1975 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 201 min.  |   Countries - Belgium, France  |  
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At a running time of three hours and 21 minutes, Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) was an audacious effort for a 25-year-old filmmaker -- and sufficiently daunting on practical grounds so that the movie wasn't seen in the USA in anything except 16mm prints for the first 33 years of its existence, until 2009. It's not a brisk 201 minutes but it is engrossing and rewarding, a painstakingly realistic account (oozing verisimiltude out of every frame, and there are a lot of frames) of three days in the life of the female protagonist of the title, portrayed by Delphine Seyrig. Akerman turns this detail, and not-quite-perfect (and increasingly troubled attempts at) repetition into a gradually intensifying, almost purely visual tale of psychological stress and deterioration, culminating in sudden violence, shocking in its swiftness and brutality, and brevity. The shots are almost all at waist-level, and camera movement is nearly non-existent as Seyrig's portrayal (aided in places by Jan DeCorte as her teenaged son), finely nuanced and as naturalistic as they come, unfolds, in a seemingly mundane domestic Belgian setting, punctuated by a couple of sex-for-hire interludes that become the catalyst for the final unraveling of this woman's life. The movie won all kinds of praise from feminist critics for its subject matter and origins, but the movie is a significant achievement beyond those cultural boundaries, as cinematic storytelling set to its own agenda and focus, with no apologies or compromises. And that unique focus and agenda also make it necessary to track down under the right conditions -- it's not as though anyone but IFC is likely ever to show this picture on cable, but it should (indeed, must) be seen on a big screen, in a theater, to get any measure of the proper effect, and the enveloping impact of Akerman's vision and Seyrig's performance.