The film “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” written and directed by Chantel Akerman in 1975, is considered one of her most important works. It challenges the way that people are perceived in society, indicating that beneath the surface there can often be profound emotional and psychological issues. Through the silent and sullen acting and the straightforward and drawn-out shots the film is able to establish a presence that mediates the underlying norms that people live by. These norms inevitably erupt in a dramatic climax that can have drastic and mortal consequences.
The film shows the slowly deteriorating daily life of a single mother. Juxtaposed against her seemingly normal everyday, “motherly”, activities of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of her children is a darker reality that underpins this seemingly mundane life. Along with all of these activities, she is also shown pleasuring men for money, which seems to be how she is taking care of her family. The quiet nature of her daily life is reflected in both a lack of music and talking. The men say nothing as she lets them in the door, takes their coat, takes them in the room, and then lets them out. This seems to be just like all of her other activities, simply a routine, like the rest of her daily tasks (Akerman).
This seems to present a profound reflection on the role of women in society. This includes not only their roles as homemakers and mothers but their their sexual and professional roles as well. The English title of the film “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels” seems to represent the seeming normalcy of her daily life. The use of repetition in the film to provide perspective on her daily life is highlighted by the foreshadowing that occurs when her normal consistency towards her daily routine begins to break down. The scenes contain long full shots that present her doing simple activities. These activities are accentuated by her narrow, almost obsessive, focus on continuing this routine.
While at the start of the film it seems as though nothing is wrong, it seems that her situation is beginning to degrade her. This is not only her sexual role but also her role as a woman as well. Her need to sell herself for money seems to be at odds with her need to present herself to society as a caring and respectable mother. She seems to be screaming quietly into the silence as she goes about her daily routine. The silence of the film and these daily actions is broken by the sounds of the objects that she interacts with and the actions that she takes. The nature of the sound in the film to break the silence is also carried over to its ability to break the monotony of the plot. She drops a spoon as she is washing the dishes and ruins the dinner (Akerman).
This seems to indicate that she has some profound psychological conflict that is occurring. Her thoughts are made clear on the third day of the film, on which she murders one of her clients. The emotive elements of the film are brought forth in this final scene in which her silent inner conflict throughout the film is highlighted by her inability to escape her situation. These factors seem to have erupted within her as she sheds her meek exterior and destroys the male-dominated hierarchy that has her in shackles.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Dir. Chantal Akerman. Perf. Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte, and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze. Janus Films. 1975. Film.