Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
I am a person of routine. I like to optimize my situation, slowly figuring out the best way for me to do a particular task. Once I do, I’m pretty happy to keep doing it just that way. I’ll find a lunch I like, and eat it day after day for weeks. I’ll find an order of tasks, like getting ready for bed, and do it basically the same way every night.
On the other hand, too much routine and I start to feel extremely trapped. The boredom of it gets to me, and I need something, anything, to change. Too much routine is as psychologically upsetting as no routine, maybe even more so. I begin to strain against my life, feeling like there’s no point to anything. It’s a delicate balance to maintain.
All of that is to say that I resonated deeply, somewhat uncomfortably deeply, with this film. It is, in many ways, not meant for me to feel that way. This is a powerfully feminist narrative, seeming designed to showcase the ways in which women can be trapped in domesticity and toxic relationships with sexuality and men. Still, the basic concept, that of routine as both a defense against emotion and life, and a crutch that ultimately is self-defeating, that’s universal. At least for me.
The film is long. Really long. More than three hours. Long-time readers will know that I typically am not a fan of extended runtimes. If ninety minutes was good enough for Bergman, it’s probably good enough for you. But, as with anything, moderation is the key. There are films that absolutely demand their length, and this is one of them. There isn’t a moment I could argue doesn’t need to be there.
The pacing is crucially important, so that the viewer can feel what Jeanne is feeling. To try and understand the situation she’s in. To empathize and relate. We are lulled almost to boredom, and that has to happen before we can be presented with the truth. Without that length, and the rote nature of the pacing, we wouldn’t understand. Without that this would be pure sensationalism. With it, it becomes something so much more. This is a masterpiece.