Watch: Chantal Akerman’s ‘Jeanne Dielman’ Is a True Action Movie
In Chantal Akerman’s ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,’ a series of mundane actions are transformed into hugely communicative gestures that keep the viewer suspended between a place of understanding the main character’s inner world and a place of total ambiguity. Akerman establishes a routine and then uses variations and interruptions in that routine to expose the protagonist’s psychology. Tasks such as cooking and cleaning become pure narrative, events in sequence moving forward in a suspenseful and ominous arc. In reducing a film to such actions, and imbuing them with meaning, these otherwise dull activities become compelling. Actions speak louder than words, and ‘Jeanne Dielman’ is cinema’s purest action movie.
Adam Cook is a Vancouver-based independent film critic, editor, and programmer. He is a regular contributor to Cinema Scope and a columnist for Little White Lies. He has written for, among others, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, Fandor, Indiewire, and Brooklyn Magazine.
Watch: Chantal Akerman’s Work Sustained Human Life
Think about this, for a second: when someone says that art helps them to go on living, what they actually mean is that it helps them to go on making artworks, which is much the same thing, if you’re truly committed to your work. Scout Tafoya demonstrates this particular feeling in a recent video essay for Fandor, on the work of the late Chantal Akerman, adapted from an essay originally written for RogerEbert.com. Listening to Tafoya’s narrative of his experience with Akerman’s brilliant, revelatory work over clips from ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,’ ‘Je Tu Il Elle,’ and other films, one gets a clear sense of how artworks might keep one going when other things do not–and more importantly, how the sort of inspiration you get when you’re excited by someone else’s creation is, in all honesty, life-giving.