Less a test of stamina than of faith, Jeanne Dielman is three hours and twenty minutes of cinema uncluttered by content. In drawn-out, mostly wordless single takes and severe square framings, the titular Belgian housewife (semiotic sex symbol Delphine Seyrig) goes through three days of her unvarying daily routine: shopping, cleaning, cooking, turning one trick a day to support herself and her son. Chantal Akerman holds her material in fearful symmetry (spatial and temporal), so that Seyrig is contained within the camera’s gaze as surely as Jeanne’s life is tied to her routines. (Given her place in the cinematic and domestic apparatus, the prostitution element is perhaps a redundant demonstration of Jeanne’s life of female servitude.) All this may sound academic — a movie you can analyze without actually having to watch — but Jeanne Dielman’s inversion of the accepted relationship between art and life opens up new cinematic textures and areas of contemplation. Its blue-moon repertory screenings become something very like a pilgrimage.
January 23-29 at Film Forum