Thursday, February 3, 2011

Not Your Ordinary Domestic Goddess

We here at Gastronomista HQ do not love the word routine. Surprises, we love. Spontaneity, yes. Joyful chaos, please sir, I want some more! When it comes to efficiency and order, we believe you can definitely have too much of a good thing. So for this week's cautionary tale we'd like to introduce you to Jeanne Dielman: lonely widow/single mother/meatloaf maker/prostitute extraordinaire. Routine does not begin to describe her life.

On Tuesdays, it's beef stew with poached potatoes. Wednesdays, breaded veal cutlets with peas and carrots. Thursdays, meatloaf. She doesn't wash dishes without putting on her housecoat and carefully fastening every button, nor does she take her clients into her bedroom without taking his coat and hanging it up in a nearby closet. And as far as that bedroom business goes, she finishes in the time it takes to boil some potatoes.

Jeanne is the tragic heroine of experimental Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman's almost eponymous feature: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. A meticulous study of repression and domestic anxiety, the film (like My Dinner With Andre) requires patience from the viewer... but really, dear reader, doesn't every good meal?

The film carefully tracks Jeanne over a period of three days. A single mother of teen-aged son Sylvain, Jeanne fills every spare moment in her day to prevent her gaping loneliness from seeping into her seemingly perfect and ordered life.

We watch her eat, bathe, babysit, cook - all in what feels like real time. We are given a special opportunity to observe a private life and an hour in, you feel inextricably privy to and protective of our protagonist - actress Dephine Seyrig's immutably beautiful face certainly doesn't hurt. So when you start to see that she's missed a button, or mussed her hair, or when she doesn't finish with a client in time and the potatoes burn, it feels deeply foreboding. For any other person, these seemingly minute lapses would go unnoticed or chalked up to a simple mistake. For Jeanne, they signal the beginning of the end.

No spoilers, but here's an excerpt.

It's never been so stressful to watch someone make meatloaf.

It's like I always say: break your routine before your routine breaks you.

Share This!