Wednesday 17 May 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare revels in a viewing of the Criterion edition of Chantal Akerman's JEANNE DIELMAN, 1080 QUAI DE COMMERCE BRUXELLES

(Click to enlarge)
The first signs of unravelling for Delphine Seyrig, playing the title role, at 2 hours 20 minutes into Chantal Akerman's majestic epic movie like no other, Jeanne Dielman, 1080 Quai de Commerce Bruxelles. Now reissued by Criterion on Blu-ray (Region A fixed) from a gorgeous new 2k restoration by the Belgian Cinémathèque. The disc also includes the same extras as Criterion's earlier DVD plus one or two more to commemorate Chantal after her death in 2015. 

Akerman created a film that remains totally unique in the history of cinema and one of still unmatched formal status. An epic on an apparently superficial "subject", with a supposedly "minimalist" form which simultaneously bewitches the viewer while accumulating an unpredictable and dangerous emotional life of its own, a linear "narrative" which actually defies conventional narrative definitions, down to the documentation of supposedly "real" time. 

For every set piece (which are more like episodes from a silent serial by Feuillade) in which each "episode" focuses on the minutiae of domestic drudgery, at each step Akerman contradicts certainty and repetition by some single or multiple visual element to undermine expectation or throw complacency, out to the unexpected or the unreal, like the flashing white lights throughout daytime and evening sequences inside the apartment coming from some uncertain source which are almost totally but quite obliterated by the blackness of interior volumes in Jeanne's apartment, suggesting some form of exterior, possibly menacing and unexplained "life." The entire film is filmed frontally with static compositions and takes of four to seven minutes of which the last staggering shot, which lasts over five minutes, is in almost total shadow which now extinguishes the flashing light leaving only Delphine. 

If my first viewing of Jeanne Dielman hit me like the tour de force that it surely is, subsequent viewings have deepened its meanings and nuances. And without taking one molecule away from Akerman the picture is inconceivable without Delphine Seyrig in the part. The collaboration of both women in the movie's creation is one of the miracles of 20th century cinema, and much as I love all of Akerman's work, Jeanne Dielman strikes me as something so unique and revolutionary in movies, and in all 20th century art, like Stravinsky's first ballets for Diaghilev, or John Cage's 4'33".

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