Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
Belgium/France, 1975. Paradise Films, Unité Trois, Ministère de la Culture Française de Belgique, Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Screenplay by Chantal Akerman. Cinematography by Babette Mangolte. Produced by Guy Cavagnac, Alain Dahan, Liliane de Kermadec, Corinne Jenart, Evelyne Paul, Paul Vecchiali. Production Design by Philippe Graff. Film Editing by Patricia Canino.
Chantal Akerman’s career of experimental works reaches its apex with this superbly daring film, a look at the life of a Brussels widow whose routines make up the bulk of the action. We see her over the course of a few days going through her daily rituals, washing dishes, making dinner, doing her shopping and even turning the odd trick to help make ends meet. In a staggering, fascinating three and a half hours, Jeanne’s activities take on sacred proportions, providing a sense of mystery and comfort, then somewhere towards the end of the second day there are tiny cracks in the porcelain perfection of the character’s life that slowly move us towards a devastating finale. Inspired by Akerman’s fascination with her Holocaust survivor mother’s treating both housework and Jewish religious traditions as rituals that keep the chaos of the outside world at bay, this is one of the great European masterpieces of the century. Thanks to the solid camerawork following the low-key action, the repetition has a soothing effect; the attention paid to detail makes you wonder if a life of healthy upkeep really is all that mundane? Akerman finds the magic in the everyday, and it is remarkable.
The Criterion Collection: #484