The Radicalism of Chantal Akerman
While cinema rarely acknowledges the stagnation of routine housewives, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (hereinafter Jeanne Dielman) faces the fact that under the patriarchal structure that predominates in most films, the masterpiece, released in 1975, was an urgent alternative.
It considers the anxiety and oppression of the domestic space for the female protagonist. Delphine Seyrig plays Jeanne Dielman, an upscale widow who does a repetitive series of menial household chores. The audience watched Jeanne in factual but static shots for nearly three and a half hours.
Straight cinematography has neither expressive movement nor close-ups. In the film, the audience only sees a woman busying herself in the kitchen. She searched everywhere to match the missing buttons from her son’s coat, prepared meals, cleaned the furniture, and washed in the tub. However, the film is very familiar but not necessarily known.
Jeanne provides sexual services to a man for extra money, regardless such an act is no more important in her empty life than her other duties. Such repetitive tasks keep her busy. Despite always keeping her sanity, Akerman plays experimental but radical. She makes the audience witness the gradual degradation of her scheme of life.
In a trap that has become a comfortable space, Akerman examines the relationship between identity and performance in the protagonist’s collapsing pattern of life. She reveals how men’s gazes have framed women throughout the history of cinema. In doing so, the film offers a realistic substitute.
It refuses to categorize her central character into one of the narrow roles usually assigned to women in cinema.
Traditional Experimental Visual
Jeanne Dielman was the first film Akerman made that followed a traditional narrative trajectory, although she was only 25 years old when she made the film. Although her approach can only be described as traditional compared to her earlier more experimental work, it comes from an inspirational stream when she composes the film in 1973. She denies viewers the typical visual scheme associated with women in film, which would show the routine movements of a woman.
It is an image that rarely occupies cinema screens. Editing and voyeuristic angles that reduce or frame women’s experiences into representations of mother figures. The figure is the moral compass, passivity, madness, and sex for a man’s actions and life. However, Akerman intends to capture the lifestyle she avoided in Brussels, which she witnessed in her mother. Akerman watched it growing up but never in the movies.
Her Jewish parents had fled Hitler’s Germany to Poland to settle into middle-class life. The project she produced details three days in Jeanne’s life. The usual experiences fill a character’s time whether it’s the efficiency she uses to prepare and use between steps in a recipe to clear the dishes and wipe the table or the meaningless programmed conversations she has with her son, Sylvain. In addition, Godard also had a great influence on Akerman at the same time.
By citing Pierrot le Fou as the film that made her want to be a director, she bases Jeanne on her mother. It influenced the director’s choice of showing Jeanne changing daily tricks to make ends meet.
The Biography of Akerman
Akerman rebelled against her education in Belgium. Born in Brussels in 1960, conceptual theory and structuralism influenced her at the age of fifteen. After the 1968 student riots in France, she studied filmmaking in Paris and attended a Belgian film school. However, Akerman was not particularly interested in the film grammar that most film schools teach. Quickly, she left her formal education in favor of exploring experimental filmmakers in New York.
The work of avant-garde and postmodernist artists like Andy Warhol taught Akerman that filmmaking is not just about making money. In other words, the film can act as how the body occupies but ultimately rejects time and space. She also explores such an idea in her debut short Saute ma ville, an introduction featuring 18-year-old Akerman shut up in the kitchen. In the short film, she performs a frenzied domestic ritual before burning the space.
With documentaries and short films, she uses extended shots to inhabit the subjects she filmed in support of realism. She also observes that her subjects engage in ordinary tasks in her works of fiction and documentaries. In addition, she observed everyday experiences such as having sex or rearranging furniture. However, she creates a space that, after sufficient time, begins to escalate the idea.
However, the way she watches disrupts the boundary between the scene and the prolonged descriptive acting.
The Life of Jeanne Dielman
Akerman established Jeanne’s routine on Wednesday in the first hour. It observes precisely the unwavering detail as the protagonist follows each task on her mental checklist. She moves into her apartment rooms from hiding her compensation, babysitting the neighbor’s baby, putting new towels on the bed for the men during the day, saving money by straying flour for her next meal, preparing food in the kitchen, turning off the lights when she went from one room to another.
At such a moment, Akerman displays each task in real. With computational clarity, she improves her procedural and controlled speed which is quiet in the viewer’s mind. Wednesday’s routine creates hope for what will happen the next day. The movies also separate each day by an intertitle, while also setting her order of tasks. How should it look on a typical day? The film acts as a living film, a slice of life that Akerman represents by the title.
It defines her character with her domestic space totaling 23. However, the basic schedule that Wednesday set began to crack in the following days. When disturbances and variations in Jeanne’s domestic rituals occur, such an experience becomes fraught with tension and anxiety. For example, the film shows the persistence of Jeanne’s formality. Therefore, Akerman casts Jeanne into a role that demands control.
It is an idea that patriarchal culture encourages that denies the protagonist’s inner life. Jeanne’s entire being is organized into well-timed units and actions. She becomes afraid of the time she is not spending efficiently when her chronic need for control begins to unravel and be threatened.
The Aesthetic of Feminism Cinema
In the early history of cinema, female artists debated how to construct and identify the challenging aesthetics of cinema or feminine women. Nevertheless, it at least finds equality with the dominant male view. Such aesthetics have they chosen as a deconstruction or variant of formal language which is prevalent even among feminist film theorists. Most of the audience is also so used to it because historically the images in films have always been arranged by artists for the sake of heterosexual male audiences.
Will it challenge the hegemony of such a historically dominant image that remains central to feminist filmmaking? The good news is that it creates an image that recognizes that female subjectivity cannot exist without creating tension between radical but assimilated representational styles. By seeking to promote subjectivity and social equality in life beyond artistic representation, the inherent confrontation occurs when images of patriarchal order reflect similar outcomes of the women’s movement.
Differences in grammar and modes of storytelling to aesthetics assert power in women’s filmmaking representing a natural shift. New wave feminist film artists such as Agnès Varda took the bold step of emphasizing how the methods of new wave artists deviated from established orders. Simply put, it employs an unconventional technique that has drawn strong criticism from structuralists. Meanwhile, their films are also very rare in bridging the gap between commercial and artistic.
In short, Jeanne Dielman became the encapsulation of new-wave feminism. It describes how women can become the subject of patriarchal power. By acting as a biologically and socially synthesized rule that places women at the bottom of the gender hierarchy, it often reduces the wave to a domesticated figure.
Modern feminism has entered the fourth wave which is broader but more humanism-like. It questions how the established power system always marginalizes sexual, racial, economic, orientational, and social through social exclusion. However, Akerman was well established in the earlier period in the 1960s.
The women’s movement began to expand and organize the concerns of first-wave feminism with suffrage. By raising questions about gender roles and representations, the second wave also recognizes the role of men as the ancestors of the patriarchal system. Many feminist film critics and theorists question the traditional role of women in cinema.
They played as secondary and stereotypical male characters. By idealizing women as prostitutes, Akerman begins to appear when feminist films deal with issues of male-centered writing. She is pervasive in filmmaking, apart from historical female filmmakers whom society has always considered the exception to the rule of male artists.
In conclusion, the second wave did not solve the problems of representation and authorship in film history.
The Male Gaze of Female Directors
In the modern era, the conversation is still happening. Claire Denis, Jane Campion, and Lynne Ramsay could all adopt a sharp male style of telling an aesthetically accessible story about women or exploring alternative projects. However, it became a tension that neither they nor the female directors could resolve and every female filmmaker had to overcome it. Apart from being closely related to the commercial prospects of film in many cases, a feminist film containing strong female characters also fits the patriarchal method of viewing.
The representation of both Captain Marvel and Black Widow in commercial cinema inspires women in audiences who are so unfamiliar with seeing female superheroes. However, it also appreciates the voyeurism of traditional male artists. Just as films have been successful in reaching the worldwide box office, female filmmakers who have stepped outside the conventional scheme of arthouse male audiences have been relegated. Such a valid point Akerman reemphasized in her films in Belgium.
However, she rarely received theatrical distribution in the United States in retrospective film centers or academia. Yet, it is not a joke when most of the American audience has committed to a patriarchal perspective. It’s also simply because art-challenging films always prove to be demanding in very short audiences’ attention spans.
The Women’s Manifesto
In 1975, the women’s manifesto in New York freed Jeanne Dielman as a film about the women’s movement to form videographers and filmmakers in a uniform struggle against oppression. The manifesto states that they do not accept the existing power structure. They are only committed to changing it with their image structure and content.
In addition to Akerman following the declaration regardless of indirectly because she did not attend the conference, she began to develop a single-camera shooting environment that featured Jeanne in the film as a stranger in an all-male world. By working with a predominantly female crew, she frames Jeanne into an image that is easier for people to observe.
However, she also confronts her audience with the reality of subjectivity, from the middle and a symmetrical angle so that she shares space with Jeanne. According to Akerman, she had no qualms about any of the shots in the film and was sure of where to put the camera, the reason for placing the camera, to when to place the camera.
Such framing she means in respect of space and her character in the film. She avoids using other formal tricks that have no place in films such as reverse shooting, sharp editing, fluid camera, and close-ups to achieve such respect. Her device makes as well as cuts the visual expression of a woman’s daily life, therefore, no close-ups and using a lower angle.
The film never felt as though Jeanne had superior knowledge or power over herself about Jeanne’s experiences. Regardless, the structural film has a lot of information that the audience cannot access but it is not easy for the audience to observe.
In Akerman’s mind, the use of traditional aesthetics in telling stories about women is irrelevant. Her cinema is indeed unwavering, being an iconoclast who tries to find an original aesthetic that she has carefully crafted to represent or represent her character. She is fully committed to her subjectivity. On the other hand, she also expresses the conceptual intentionality of Jeanne Dielman.
According to her, the film acts as a feminist film because it provides space for things that are never, or rarely shown in such a way, such as the slice-of-life movement of a female protagonist. Jeanne plays the lowest in the film’s image hierarchy. Therefore, Akerman inhabits her character space. On the other hand, Hollywood often neglected the area and even many feminist films before Akerman’s arrival.
The point is that women’s films usually have nothing to do with content. There is hardly any woman who has the confidence to convey their feelings. According to Akerman, female filmmakers always forget to look for formal ways to express themselves. They are always looking for their way of looking at things, their rhythm, and what they want. The film shows Akerman in complete control over her content and film form.
With such thoughts, she presents a film where every moment is very important in her feminist output. Even though she doesn’t think of herself as a feminist filmmaker, she only refers to herself as Chantal Akerman and not a woman who makes women’s films.
The Individual Study
Simply put, the amount of time the audience spends uninterrupted with Jeanne becomes four or seven minutes in one shot. It shows the protagonist’s concern in defining a neat woman. Expressionless in her surroundings, she always observes every detail of her routine. However, the order always governs her movement from her daily rounds. Akerman and her cinematographers learned how the duration of a shot can change the similarities between descriptive, abstract, dramatic, and concrete.
The use of time images illustrates the use of a single shot that never breaks in conveying space and time. It allows the audience to consider a mother character who is diligent and has to live a home life. With sex being necessary as a side business, she also has to support her son. The amount of time Jeanne spends together, both in terms of routine and duration of use of individual images, reveals the filmmaker’s willingness to reconsider the character of a woman. According to Akerman, the film should act as an art in showing the character washing the dishes.
Therefore, Akerman’s novelty in capturing posture as a sign of a special body condition for the sake of the female character, while the male character always speaks for society, notes clear patriarchy. Studies of characters like Jeanne Dielman are not completely acknowledged or ignored by people.
Time and Boredom
Aside from the director’s point of view, Delphine Seyrig has statement that she always puts her seductive image aside. It was formed in her many collaborations with François Truffaut and Jacques Demy in playing Jeanne. She disappears into a state of internalization and dampens her character. She always offers excellent performance that relies on communication and subtle expression.
On the other hand, Akerman allows Seyrig to inhabit her character through full embodiment, although her dialogue is very limited to superficial exchanges with her son or other characters who interact with her outside her apartment. To know her character, Akerman refuses to clarify her with exposition tools, other character pieces, flashbacks, or voiceovers. Therefore, the audience must distinguish between the invisible and the visible.
Regardless, the signs of Jeanne’s identity were evident in Seyrig’s physical appearance. The gradual tension in her body language when her routine becomes erratic is just one example. Seyrig does not need to hide behind a mask and must be able to be her measure in turning actions into real actions. In small moments, her performance is at its best with no action at all. Akerman allows Jeanne to hear her threatening presence of thoughts.
Various sequences such as her sitting in solitude and silence for a rare period. Jeanne’s internal panic in her frequently changing posture contemplates how time and boredom can be excruciating.
From the point of view of the new wave of women, audiences always question the limited function of women in films which serves to position women into subordinate roles through cultural learning. Male characters take an active role in the story. They always act as individuals whereas women often have a role to play in their relationships with men on screen. In the male gaze, the female character is merely the objectification of sex, the femme fatale, the nagging woman, the object of lust, and the sister.
In essence, they are merely abstractions derived from the historical tradition of representational tropes. It only works in iconographic relationships with men. However, Jeanne Dielman became a feminist film for reasons not because Jeanne is a strong female character. However, it was because she caught the invisible movement of a woman that the screen rarely showed. Despite her being objectified in the context of the film, Akerman does not use her in a voyeuristic way.
Patriarchal cinema makes objectification in such characters and methods. Objectification always comes in the form of a domestic subject so that the specimen can be observed. In conclusion, she almost disappeared on purpose in multiple shots. From the vast hours, she spends time and views between the viewer and the closed object so that there is an understanding of subjectification.
Separating Jeanne Dielman
In the film, the unit of time always separates Jeanne, which is also the exact time. Her routine gets out of hand when she experiences something new with her paid sex on Thursday. While she usually compares her unpleasant bedroom experience to the time it takes her to boil potatoes for her son’s dinner, something different has happened in off-screen coitus. Day by day, it becomes out of sync so she always forgets to comb her hair back or change the tureen cover in her experience.
She also always makes a bad pot of coffee and always drops the fork in the kitchen. Her world outside her apartment also she can’t work with. On the last day, the baby she was watching over continued to cry. On the other hand, the cafe where she stopped to rest had another woman filled. Such disturbances in Jeanne’s routine increased in her frequency. Seyrig’s surface also begins to reveal a state of panic in her character from her breathing to her body language. Anxiety plays a role in her character.
It becomes gambling through disturbed micro-expressions of tension. It strays from the poise of Jeanne, determined by difficulty and Akerman sets her before in the film. On the other hand, Akerman also displays Jeanne’s calm presence on the screen. In this specific moment, Jeanne’s voice can get louder when her character gets messy. The sound of slamming doors and cabinets is one example of the collapse of her character and routine.
Institutionalizing Jeanne’s Role
In reading Jeanne’s slice of life as institutionalized patriarchy, it is similar to how an individual who is isolated by society begins to feel or is isolated for a long time. The paradox and the familiarity between the characters and the boundaries of the prison became comfortable, experienced by Jeanne when her domestic routine became messy. This proves not only Akerman’s portrait of her character as a typical woman who is “imprisoned” in a world dominated by men.
However, it becomes psychological institutionalization as well. If so, the audience can interpret what will happen after she kills a man in her apartment and the film fades to black. She may have been crushed by her catalyst or her rebellion may lead to the symbolism of feminist rebellion. Jeanne’s response to her murder is less significant than such an act itself but serves as a symbol of rebellion. Yet, violence against women in cinema can be revolutionary in its antagonism to patriarchal ideology.
When violence appears in failed ideologies, the reduction and demarcation of Jeanne’s role in patriarchal society dissolve. In other words, the murder becomes extraordinary escapism for the repressive but personal Jeanne. Yet, the film doesn’t just hit a breaking point when it comes to the murders and Jeanne on the last day.
Despite the camera looping stopping on the third day and showing her gender, Akerman passed the sexual encounter two days earlier with sharp cuts from day to night. However, Jeanne took off the robe and looked up at the ceiling as both breathed heavily, on the other hand, Jeanne’s eyes blinked.
Her hands moved reflexively, covering her face with the blanket when she climaxed as well. Jeanne’s clothes and her customers lay on the bed, reaching for the scissors on the dresser, being impulsive but necessary and surprising. At the last moment, Jeanne just sat at the dining room table in the dark while her hands were covered in blood.
She smiled curiously as she closed her eyes, disappearing from her face and showing an expression of relief. She fell back into a state of mind, though it was still uncertain whether the murder was a loss of control or liberation for herself. According to Akerman, many women in society subconsciously insult their feelings.
In her last breath, Jeanne just sat, for the first time from start to finish, with her domestic room in disarray, lights off, and a corpse in another room. Her expression is very calm or satisfied. Akerman’s commitment, formality, and minimalism which are almost like a documentary in representing the representation of household women lead to visionary or subversive statements.
It earns the film an enduring place in the history of feminist filmmaking.
Concluding Repetition and Obscurity
Outside of Jeanne Dielman, Akerman’s films remain somewhat obscure, even though critics have lauded her as an important voice in feminist cinema. It touches on what is meant by an art film and intends to give boredom to the audience in seeing the last sequence. Ironically, it earns a place in being one of the films about complex character studies both about women and in other spheres.
The film resonates above the rest, built over time through a narrative rooted in formal experience. Broadly speaking, conventional films do not need to prepare the audience to engage with a housewife for the part that Akerman extends. Therefore, Jeanne’s efforts were very strange yet simple. After such, the audience becomes accustomed to such an experience, becoming familiar with the rhythm from the kitchen to the bedroom.
Fulfilling Masculine Disclosure
It became easier to identify with Jeanne, to see what small patterns were changing, and to feel confident about repetition. The days are changing, the audience is getting annoyed with her schedule disruption to the point that it is stifling. The final breath shows Jeanne’s violence against what the audience expects from the character of a housewife. When she kills, there is a sense of release from her stressful routine.
It becomes violence that confronts the audience’s relationship with patriarchal films in fulfilling the masculine perspective of women. However, Akerman’s disclosure is how she immerses the audience in the repression, discipline, patience, and subjectivity of conventional women.
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