Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
This is a must-see for fans of either director Chantal Akerman or actress Delphine Seyrig, an intimate and detailed look at their working process while creating Akerman’s 1975 masterpiece Jeanne Dielman 23 Quai Du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles.
Akerman’s colleague, actor Sami Frey, brings a video camera on the set of Jeanne Dielman to record discussions and rehearsals during the shoot, capturing some priceless moments between director and star as they negotiate the difference between the genius filmmaker’s vision and the actor’s embodying them accurately on the screen. The film that would result from this collaboration is a masterpiece of ritual and repetition, a near four-hour investigation of the life of a widow that observes her performing housework and preparing meals in an almost sacred, systematic manner that was inspired by Akerman’s fascination with her own mother’s manner of running her home (and enacting the rituals of her Jewish faith).
Only twenty-four when shooting what would end up being one of the most important films of the decade, Akerman directs from an elaborately detailed script and wants a specific sense of automatic, instinctive activity from Seyrig, who frequently grills the sweet, never combative director to give her as much information on the motivations of her activities as possible. Whether or not this ever leads to serious arguments is not evident on the screen, perhaps Frey and Akerman kept the dicier moments out, but it’s obvious that director and star enjoy a productive working relationship that is always pitched at the right level of tension to produce the hypnotic magic that was to come.
Rehearsals that see Seyrig going through all the specific moments of cleaning and cooking are fascinating, seeing her perform her duty as a glamorous celebrity by giving an interview on the set to a journalist who is grilling her about her feminist activism, equally so.
Akerman, young and soft-spoken but no one’s pushover, is an equally engaging subject matter as she makes it clear that her vision for the finished product is clearly in her mind and she has the patience of the ages to make it happen.