Friday, May 21, 2010

#484: Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

(Chantal Akerman, 1975)

Yesterday I woke up, came into my living room, and checked my email. I then read all the posts on my Google reader, took and quick shower, brushed my teeth, grabbed my iPod and Blackberry, and headed to work. I listened to the new Miles Kurosky record on the way, and I didn't hit too much traffic so I got there pretty quick. Once I got to work, I parked down on the lower level of the parking lot because there weren't any spaces up top. I locked my car and went into my office. When I got into my office, I checked my email again, grabbed a granola bar (almond) and made myself some white mango tea. Then I began to work. I wrote a report on a kids movie coming out next year, only stopping to eat a quick lunch of chicken and basil that my co-worker picked up for me (I had to finish my report early since my supervisor was leaving for a weekend vacation). Once I finished the report, I sent it to my supervisor and made a phone call related to moving (which I'm doing next weekend). Then I had a call with a client about the same kids movie, which only lasted about 15 minutes. When I was finished, I packed up my stuff and went out to my car. I drove to Russo's, a great local produce store in my neighborhood, and bought some vegetables, eggs, and milk. I also stopped at the UPS store to pick up a package, which was an herb holder my wife had bought. I came home and opened a bottle of wine and watched  Pardon the Interruption on ESPN. I finished watching Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and then my wife came home. I made dinner, some torn bread, mushrooms, fiddleheads, chorizo, and grapes topped with a fried egg. We then ate the dinner and watched Parks and Recreation, The Office, and 30 Rock. I did some writing on my computer and then went to bed, where I read a script until I fell asleep.

If you found this interesting, you might like Jeanne Dielman, a nearly three and a half hour chore that is certainly one of the least interesting Criterion films I've watched so far. The film is ostensibly about the negative space around cinema, the moments of banality and repetition that surround the big moments in our lives, the ones that get turned into movies. For me, what it was really about was the ultimate question of art theory: is something art simply because we classify it as art and/or we present it as such? Or does the piece of work have to have some intrinsic quality that makes it art? FOr that matter, must the quality be conveyed to everyone, or simply to some? If something moves you, is that art, and if something moves someone else, is that crap?

I've peeled plenty of potatoes in my time, but I have yet to hear anyone call it one of the greatest movies ever made (as Jeanne Dielman has been designated by some). Is that just because I wasn't filming it? Or is context everything? I don't feel like I am in a proper position to decry this film, and I could see how the educated viewer fed up with the designated structure of films could find this film freeing, and even wildly subversive. But I am a true believer in the idea that movies are structured the way they are because it works. Stories were told in the way films are structured since humans began to speak, and they will continue to be told in that way.

I think what failed to excite me about Jeanne Dielman was not so much its lack of narrative thrust (in fact, even that is a charade, as within the first ten minutes there is already a hook of the john arriving at her apartment) but instead its misguided confidence, its insular ambition that ignores the context of narrative cinema and attempts instead to shove experimental constructs into its structure. For me, the whole thing seemed more like an exercise than an insight into a woman's life. I don't know. Maybe I'm just not the audience for a film like this.

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