Voted the Greatest Film of All Time in the 2022 Sight and Sound critics' poll
Catherine Fowler presents an illuminating analysis of Chantal Akerman's mould-breaking study of the daily life of a single mother
Chantal Akerman's 1975 film Jeanne Dielman portrays in excruciating detail and in real time the daily life of a single mother, as she cooks, cleans and cares for her son, and has sex with male clients in her home. Akerman, who shot the film in five weeks with an all-female crew, described Jeanne Dielman as a challenge to 'a hierarchy of images' that places a car accident or a kiss 'higher in the hierarchy than washing up ... And it's not by accident, but relates to the place of woman in the social hierarchy ... Woman's work comes out of oppression and whatever comes out of oppression is more interesting.'
Yet Jeanne Dielman's importance is broader and more sustained than the originality of its subject matter and form. More than any other film before or since, it reminds the viewer that we give our time to a film; and in making us look both harder and for longer it asks us to feel time slipping away, for its protagonist as much as for ourselves.
Catherine Fowler's study of the film articulates the fascination of Jeanne Dielman over and above its place as an exemplary film to watch and study. She provides a close textual analysis of performance, particularly that of Delphine Seyrig as the title character, mise-en-scène, narrative structure, camerawork and editing, and draws on original footage, interviews and documents to explore the making of the film. She interrogates its unique representation of domestic space and the materiality of women's time. In doing so, she illuminates why the film is seen as a significant precursor for what came to be known as 'Slow Cinema' and why it continues to exact such significance in film history today.