Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
A singular work in film history, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles meticulously details, with a sense of impending doom, the daily routine of a middle-aged widow (Delphine Seyrig)—whose chores include making the beds, cooking dinner for her son, and turning the occasional trick. In its enormous spareness, Akerman’s film seems simple, but it encompasses an entire world. Whether seen as an exacting character study or one of cinema’s most hypnotic and complete depictions of space and time, Jeanne Dielman is an astonishing, compelling movie experiment, one that has been analyzed and argued over for decades.
Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles receives a Blu-ray upgrade and is presented on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 2K restoration, which in turn was scanned in 4K from the original 35mm camera negative.
Criterion’s original DVD used an older standard-definition master so any high-definition presentation would have more than likely been an improvement but thankfully we get more than the minimum and receive a fresh, clean, and very filmic looking image. I admit to being a little bit disappointed to see Criterion has stuck the 201-minute film and all of its supplements on one disc, but I was pleased to see there didn’t appear to be any large, appalling side effects. That said, there are a couple of little short-comings that may (or may not) be related: shadow delineation in some of the film’s darker scenes is limited and grain may not be as tight and fine as some of Criterion’s best presentations, but in the case of the latter grain at least doesn’t look like a blocky mess. Fine object detail has improved drastically over the previous DVD, best shown in that cross-hatching pattern on Jeanne’s housecoat, which disappeared and shimmered on the DVD, and I found colour saturation to be far cleaner as well. On that point, though, I should note that the colours do look a bit darker here in comparison to the DVD, but I’d say that they look a more natural in comparison to the DVD, which does look overly bright and boosted.
Though I noticed a spec in a couple of places the restoration work has cleaned up a great deal. I think there is also more image around the frame in comparison to the DVD, but I only noticed this by accident: about one-hour-and-eleven-minutes in you can make out a boom mic on the right hand side of the screen (7th screen grab) which doesn’t appear on the DVD. For me this wasn’t a huge deal (plus my daughter is the one that pointed it out to me, I didn’t even notice initially) but it’s there.
There are some notable short-comings but in the end I find them minor and on the whole it’s a really strong presentation. After having the heavily digitized DVD for so long it’s nice to finally get a clean, more film-like presentation and it’s well worth upgrading to this edition for the image alone.
The film has a simple but very intriguing sound design, made up mostly of everyday sound effects, like heels clacking on the floor as Jeanne moves through her apartment or a bustling city street, though often times these effects come off exaggerated. Dialogue is minimal, spread out pretty far throughout the film. In all, though, the LPCM 1.0 mono track works very well for the film. Fidelity is surprisingly strong and there is a fair amount of range there as well. Sound quality is clean and despite there being some obvious background noise during the film’s quieter moments there’s no other instances of obvious damage. It’s a very suiting, very clean presentation.
Criterion ports everything from their previous DVD edition over to their new Blu-ray release. First up again is the 69-minute documentary Autour de “Jeanne Dielman” a documentary (of sorts) recorded during the filming of Jeanne Dielman.... It’s made up entirely of raw footage and the footage in question mainly features Akerman and Seyrig (and various crew members at times) discussing scenes, the character, and actually performing walkthroughs. Seyrig really pushes on Akerman, then 25, trying to understand why she wants her to do things in a certain fashion, a discussion on how Jeanne should brush her hair early on being a great example. Seyrig pushes for a direct answer on the hair brushing but Akerman really doesn’t have an answer (in an interview elsewhere on the disc she mentions that she didn’t know how to answer some of Seyrig’s questions because it just seemed obvious to her why it should be the way she wanted.) Seyrig also briefly talks about feminism and the point of view a woman filmmaker can offer. This is actually one of the better making-ofs I’ve seen, specifically because it concentrates principally on the director and her lead’s relationship.
Chantal Akerman: On Jeanne Dielman is a 20-minute interview with the director done exclusively for Criterion. She begins by explaining how she developed an interest in filmmaking, which occurred after she saw Pierrot le fou at the age of 15 and realizing that films could be art as well. She talks about moving to New York, her work with cinematographer Babette Mangolte, and then her interest in experimental filmmaking. She then talks about how Jeanne Dielman came to be, about running into Delphine Seyrig at a festival and then making an unusual deal with her to get her to star in the film. She spends half of the interview talking about the film and mentions her influences on the subject matter and the rituals in the film (her aunts were a primary influence.) Amazingly despite a premiere where various audience members kept leaving the film was picked up for various festivals and she was then given the label of a great filmmaker. It’s a nice interview and I enjoyed listening to her talk about the film.
Chantal Akerman: On Filmmaking is comprised of a set of excerpts taken from a 1997 episode of Cinéma de notre temps. The original episode runs 63-minutes (according to IMDB) but it has been cut down to 17-minutes here. Apparently the full feature is made up primarily of footage from her films, so the cuts here could have been due to rights issues. I initially didn’t care for this feature when I watched it on the old DVD (I’m going to blame it on being a new dad and my patience being thin at the time) but have come around to it now. As part of the series Akerman agreed to make an episode for the show around one filmmaker. When she discovered all the filmmakers she would consider doing had already been covered she jokingly said she could do one about herself. The producers agreed. Now locked in Akerman reads her treatment which ends up being about her trying to come up with a segment and what she wants to reveal about herself. It gets a little biographical, covering how her heritage probably influences her work and how she sees her work. It irritated me originally but coming back to it I found it funny and insightful.
Moving on the next feature is a 7-minute 1976 television interview with Chantal Akerman and Delphine Seyrig. Akerman gets some time to talk about her film and what she intended with it but it’s obvious the interviewer (one Michael Drucker) is more concerned about interviewing Seyrig than actually concentrating on this newcomer director. Seyrig talks about taking on this unglamorous role and her reasons for doing it, plus she adds in little tid-bits like how this was her first time actually making coffee. I was actually a little amused when Drucker tried to suggest a possible message to the film only to have both Akerman and Seyrig ring in that this is not a film with a message. Not a great interview but I enjoyed watching it just to see a young Akerman new to all of this and a seasoned Seyrig.
Criterion has also recorded a 23-minute interview with cinematographer Babette Mangolte who worked with Akerman on a few of her films early on. She talks about first meeting the young woman (at the age of 21) and the interest they shared in experimental cinema (thanks to some of the works of Michael Snow). She talks about a couple of their early films, La chambre and Hotel Monterey, both experimental films (and clips are included here) and then gets into a great amount of detail about the shoot of Jeanne Dielman which was surprisingly complicated since they were shooting in an actual apartment that didn’t have a lot of room. It a nice extension on Akerman’s interview.
And probably my second favourite feature on here is an interview with Natalia Akerman, Chantal’s mother. This interview between Chantal and her mother was recorded in 2007. The notes mention that the original intention by the filmmakers was to edit out Chantal but she has been left in. It’s really a charming 29-minute piece where her mother reflects on her work starting with her first short film Saute ma ville, then Jeanne Dielman, and finally News From Home. She’s incredibly proud of her daughter and loves her films (I was also charmed by her excitement over meeting Delphine Seyrig) and of course, as one would expect, the biggest fear she had about her daughter’s films was that no one would like them. The discussion between the two is interesting and I’m glad that the two were left in together.
And finally we get Akerman’s first short film Saute ma ville, running about 13-minutes. Akerman offers a quick introduction explaining the film and comparing it to Jeanne Dielman. The film itself is somewhat similar, though with a slightly quicker pace, focusing on a young Akerman and like Dielman it focuses on the mundane actions of the character, though just in her kitchen (driving her mad of course). It’s actually pretty impressive when one considers she was only 18 when she made it. I won’t call it a great film but it’s nicely put together. As a bonus the film has been restored, looking significantly better in comparison to how it looked on the previous DVD, and it is presented in 1080p high-definition. Like the DVD it is also presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1.
Criterion still includes a booklet containing the same essay by Ivone Margulies found with the old release, offering some insight into the film and discussing some of Akerman’s other films. The booklet is more-or-less laid out the same way, images places in different places or slightly different images used instead. The essay, as far as I can tell, is exactly the same between both editions.
Overall, all these years later, it’s still an excellent set of features, offering a fairly thorough examination of Akerman’s work and Jeanne Dielman.
Packed with the same supplements found on the DVD and a fresh, brand new video presentation it’s a terrific release that comes with a very high recommendation, especially for those that already own that previous DVD.