I’d like to use the notion of the gaze as the jumping off point for looking at the film I alluded to earlier: Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). This
Now, Akerman’s film of static shots will focus for extreme lengths on things like peeling potatoes, making meatloaf, sitting at the kitchen table, and so on. Yet, the film never gives us a glimpse at the most provocative moments in Dielman’s day: the bedroom scenes with her clients. Instead, Akerman keeps us at bay, down the hall, blocked out by a closed bedroom door. Here, our desired gaze—the insidious glance at a primal act—is intentionally denied, and it’s likely one of the reasons this film is a hailed feminist classic. Another reason? The moment we are finally granted access into the bedroom scene, which, of course, is a lengthy shot, and not entirely pleasant to watch; Dielman’s orgasm, while a man literally just lays on top of her, is a mixture of violence and release that will make you shift in your seat. What follows, however, after over 3 hours of exquisitely dull action—which, I confess, actually is engrossing enough that you get drawn into the comfort of the banality of it all (I felt, at times, like I enjoyed this so much I didn’t want too much of a change in Dielman’s routine; it was inviting for me as well)—is Dielman’s Judith versus Holofernes moment. So, once we are finally given the desired gaze, we are then forced to watch the film’s only violent (nay, active) moment. It’s wonderfully executed—pun not, necessarily, intended.
Needless to say, Akerman’s film is a stunning viewing experience that will surely stick with viewers for a long, long time. It’s not for everyone, but I love the way it challenges notions of privilege and the gaze, as well as what compromises a narrative or what constitutes an epic. As a side note, it is a perfect companion piece to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970). Of course, Fassbinder only makes us go through approximately 80 minutes before his explosive, shocking conclusion, but they essentially follow a similar path. Akerman’s film, however, is far more interesting, complicated, and ingenious.
Just one scene, and not the entire thing, to give you an idea of Dielman's life. (Akerman also cleverly uses no soundtrack throughout the film--immersing viewers in the dullness of a life without accompaniment)
And Fassbinder's take...