{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Jeanne Dielman: Second Day Report

I started to watch Jeanne Dielman 2 days back, after dinner. Jeanne Dielman is about the daily life of a widow living with her teenager son and is supposedly one of the greatest feministic works. Its 3 hours and 13 minutes long. First day I completed just above one hour and slept while it completed itself. The second day, I started earlier so that I can complete it fully. I couldn't but after 2 hours and 20 minutes, it has started to take its shape. It’s still about an hour from finish though but I am quite sure that it’s a masterpiece in itself. It does what I expect from great writings, to make a language and world of their own.

The perfection of Jeanne's activities, perfect multitasking of her daily jobs, the static schedule of her chores is reflected in the perfection of static framings, camera placements and most orderly editing. Camera is still and voyeuristic, strategically placed and observant, never interfering but always watching.

The film is justifiably 3 hrs long. The first half of the film is definitely an exercise to accustom the viewers to a certain pace, and this pace is not due to any technical or stylistic reason but is tied to the pace of Jeanne's daily world. As we become involved in its pace, we start noticing every detail. We notice that the sweater which Jeanne's son is wearing is small for him and the new sweater that Jeanne is knitting is to be made longer because Jeanne's son likes it so. Not to say that these details are important to understand the film or such observations will benefit us to understand the film better at a later point in any way, but to say that we become attentive and start to connect minute things. We observe the light switches turned on and off very carefully and wonder if they have something more than their usual function to light a particular part of house. Also there is some rhythm in all this, kitchen on, living room off, and so on. As camera follows Jeanne, light precedes her. Next time when she will leave an unwanted light, we will be the first one to notice and wonder what this slight break in routine might account for or amount to. We notice when Jeanne accidentally leaves one of her coat button open and we feel immensely relieved when she notices it and promptly buttons it up.

On the second hour (her second day) things starts to go slightly off the pattern they followed the previous day, successful multitasking which was on expert display yesterday go slightly wrong. The dinner is late, the potatoes burn. We slowly feel the tension due to this turbulence just because we have watched the first hour perfection.

There is a moment of absolute beauty in the second half, a moment which might have gone unnoticed or might have been overemphasized elsewhere. After the daily routine of Jeanne goes off the track and to confirm this, potatoes burn, Jeanne goes out to buy more potatoes, comes back, sits in her kitchen on the usual place, weary and little confused and anxious how today things are going out of her deft hands, begins to peel potatoes with a resigned face. Once she is done with one potato and is midway through the next, something happens, and her pace increases. She doesn’t cheer up, but her hands starts moving faster. A mild burst of physical energy betraying her mental state owing to her responsibility as a homemaker. It is a short moment where she mentally decides that she needs to complete her work. This is an unsung collapse and rise by our heroine - momentary and unvoiced.

Jeanne Dielman is amazing because it is so religiously straight but its effect is quite non-linear. As we begin to see the second day, first we try to compare it with the last day and while observing the differences, try to sort out something out of normalcy of Jeanne's life, and in a way, some of this tension is released when potatoes burn. It is, in all its modesty, as big an event as eruption of volcano in a Hollywood blockbuster. Now we smell there is something wrong under the surface.


Ed Howard said...

It's a masterpiece but you can't actually manage to finish it? Heh.

Actually, I can sympathize, it's a long and somewhat static film, but you're doing yourself a disservice by not watching it all in one go. The film's effects are possible to appreciate objectively just by looking at the structure, but it doesn't really get to you on a visceral level unless you can allow yourself to totally occupy its self-contained little world. The slow process by which Jeanne's composure comes apart and her world of routine is disrupted is best experienced the way it's meant to be, as a slow development within the course of the 3 hours and 3 days.

I'll be interested to hear what you think of the ending when you get to that, too.

anurag said...

You are absolutely right and especially about this film, but I have a very small attention span. I try to watch a film in one go but it seldom happens.

Anyway, I completed the film last night after I wrote the post. Will try to write "final day report", but I need to see it fully one more time :)

The sleepy activist said...

When I comment on your blog, I realize it is supposed to be about the blog rather than the commenter. However, cannot resist telling you the thoughts that came to my mind when I read it. What if smone made a movie on my life? People would see chaos and confusion and late nights and late mornings and a lot of unfinished business. And then when on a few occasions they see deliberation, order and calm, they would realize that something has gone wrong... she is suddenly working within a system rather than through it... has there been a tragedy? But then suddenly the disturbingly precise movements of her hands fall back into their natural disarray... she has a grasp on things once more.