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Nov 6 only: 'Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles'

For those not glued to televisions, radios or smart phones awaiting election returns, the Northwest Film Center offers the film classic, "Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" (in French). Written and directed by Chantal Akerman and produced with an all woman crew, this 1975 Belgian film received acclaim for its unflinching look at the life of a single mother's home life over three days. The Village Voice considers it in the top twenty of the best films of the 20th century.

Entrance to Northwest Film Center
Lindsay Waite
"Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles"
Courtesy of Ministère de la Culture Française de Belgique, Paradise Films, Unité Trois

For three hours and twenty one minutes, the viewer experiences the life of Jeanne Dielman over three days. The tedium of peeling a potato, or making a meat loaf, or looking for a missing button are experienced in real time. Jeanne, a widow, is seen only in her apartment, or leaving it with her young teenage son on a ritualistic nightly venture.

"Do we have to go?" he asks; "Yes, we're going."

One hears a neighbor through the door but never sees her. Jeanne's sister only appears through a letter sent to Jeanne, which Jeanne reads aloud to her son. And then there are the male visitors. One each afternoon, a "John" appears, from whom Jeanne derives income. Then, it is back to the housework, preparing dinner, and heading out for the evening with her reluctant son.

Other than the minimalist conversations, the film is essentially silent except for household sounds. There is no music to cue up certain feelings. The viewer is left to reflect on the mundane routines, the setting, Jeanne's expressions, and the slight variations in her routine. One's mind can wander incessantly and reflect on this claustrophic life.

As can be seen from the video clip, the camera is often directly in front of actor Delphine Seyrig. With very little movement on screen and this direct shooting, the film is more of a series of longlasting visual images, the polar opposite of an action flick. Yet, looking dead on at Jeanne, experiencing her life, one imagines all kinds of internal action. While the third day depicted has moments of drama, stasis returns in the concluding moments as Jeanne sits at her kitchen table.

This film was considered groundbreaking in 1975. The director, just 25 years old, was hailed as moving beyond a timid form of neorealism and creating a more truthful kind of film by holding the camera steady for long periods to capture every single second of certain actions (or inaction). Director Akerman said her intent was to show moments in women's lives that are intentionally left out of films. Source: Film and Authorship by Vivian Wright Wexman. Think about the significance of this kind of filming in other films in which moments are elongated and which evoke to an extent this kind of style: Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul," David Lynch's "Eraserhead," and Todd Hayne's "Safe," for instance.

This film is screening one night only, November 6 at 7PM at the Whitsell Auditorium on the north side of the Portland Art Museum. Tickets range from $6 to $9. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to the Northwest Film Center's website. Tickets are also available a half hour prior to screening time. This film is presented in conjunction with the Marianne Wex exhibition at Yale Union, October 12 - November 30.

Sources: IMDb, Ivone Margulies in, Northwest Film Center, Yale Union, Film and Authorship by Vivian Wright Wexman.


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