“Jeanne Dielman”


JeanneDielmanis Chantal Akerman’s mesmerizing masterpiece film of containment,stasis, time and domestic anxiety. The film shows the daily routinechores of a lonely young window who lives with her son Sylvain. Whilethe boy is in school, Jeanne cares, cooks, cleans the apartment andreceives clients in the afternoon.Thesingle mother engages in prostitution with a male client for hersubsistence to make ends meet. Jeanne prostitution is part of herdaily routine activities she performs by rote and is uneventful.

Inthe second day, Jeanne’s routine begins to unravel in her mind asshe drops a spoon and overcooks potatoes meant for dinner(Margulies 2).These uneventful alterations prepare Jeanne for her climax on thethird day when she experiences an unusual orgasm with her male clientand her life slowly falls apart. After an intimate act she fatallystubs’ her client with scissors (Margulies22).In this essay, a discussion is presented on how the film directorAkerman sets up ‘Jeanne Dielman’ to explore the psychologicalnature of the titular’s character. To achieve this, Akerman helpsin breaking down the lady’s mental processes as it shiftsthroughout the film in her routine chores, a dramatic climax andresolution on the third day (Margulies4).


Arkman’sfilm allows viewers to experience the literal duration, materialityand the concrete meaning of women work. As an audience one watch thefilm for over three hours as Jeanne cares, cooks, showers, dines withher son and do shopping. Each action imprints a mental image as oneabsorbs the familiar rhythm and expected behaviors in Jeanne’slife. However, the author uses a minimalist precision and deflectsthe audience attention from Jeanne’s predictable morning schedulewith afternoon prostitution. In this way, the film createsimpressionistic images in our mind and build uneasiness as the filmcomes to climax in the third day.Jeanne Dielman filmis non-dramatic and paradoxical (Margulies9).

Whenand how the film was produced

JeanneDielman filmwas produced in 1975, when the author-Akerman, was only twenty fiveyears old. Akerman was born in Belgium in 1950 by Jewish parents whohad escaped Poland due to Nazism. Akerman developed film makinginterests at young age and did sales jobs to raise money forproducing her first film Sautema ville (Margulies2).Akerman lived in New York between 1971 to 1972 and this residenceformed and important part in her film making experience. While in NewYork, Akerman interacted with several structural film makers andperformed different roles. This exposure opened her mind on filmmaking and in 1972 collaborated with famous cinematographer BabetteMangolte in the production of Lachamber (1972), Hanging Out Yonkers (19173, News from home (1977) andHotelMonterey amongothers (Margulies5).

Inall these films, Akerman exhibited structuralism aspects byfashioning series of real-time scenes in non-dramatic shots. Akermanwas influenced by Bresson’s flat model films and Dreyer’s filmsthat exhibit non-psychological austerity (Margulies5).In most of her films, characters talk in repetitive monologues withinterludes of long silences. According to Akerman, these recitativemonologues was also influenced by her memory on Synagogue chantswhere dialogue is made of rhythmic citations and sentences make lessmeaning. Akerman met actress JeanneDielman atNancy Theatre Festival during the HotelMontereyfilm show (Hoberman3).The actress was first introduced in Akerman’s filmJe, tu, il, elle. Inthe film Je,tu, il, elle, Akermanexhibits her obsessive gestures that override acting, living andcreating. In JeanneDielman film,the camera is fixed low to match the film maker’s short height(Margulies7).The film production date coincides with the neo-realism era of‘social attention.’ Akerman’s film was a presentation ofwomen’s everyday activities and appeared to mock postwar films thatfocused glorified men. Akerman’s intention was to make a femalecentric film that coincided with an era ‘when everybody was talkingabout women’ feminism (Margulies2).

Cinematicaspects of the film

Thefilm’s frame composition is symmetrical and frontal. A closer viewof the film JeanneDielmandoes not indicate any use of point-view shots, reverse angles orclose-ups. Akerman frames together all activities done by Jeanne inseries as they occur to avoid ‘cutting some pieces’ and give thefilm a realistic impression to viewers (Margulies10).In Akerman’s view, this helps the viewers follow and ‘know whereJeanne is.’ The shooting of Jeanne Dielman film took five weeks andthe author referred it as ‘a love film for my mother for it gaverecognition to that kind of a woman,’ Akerman used female crew inmost part of the film however, Akerman later thought it as awful tohave used women as crews (Margulies2).

Accordingto Akerman, the shooting did not measure up to her expectations dueto ‘hierarchy of images.’ Inone interview, Akerman acknowledged that after working on the script,she had the entire ‘final’ form of the film in her mind(Cavell257). However, she decided to eliminate some parts and characters sothat the film would entirely focus on Jeanne and her apartment. Forinstance, in the film Jeanne’s sister appears only through letterwhile Jeanne’s neighbor is only shown while describing how hard shefinds shopping and dinner preparation (Margulies11).

Thescenes in JeanneDielmanfilm portray a unique and long-winded monologues inclined to genderpressure. In part, the film explores all aspect of Jeanne’s lifeand her son’s oedipal thoughts, all drawing out the sexual anxietyin Jeanne’s life. However,Akerman said that was not accidental and was meant to portray theposition of women in the social hierarchy. The film show the life ofJeanne Dielman in real time with all actions framed together. Theselong shots ensure that the viewers follow and feel as part of thefilm (Margulies8).

Akermanportraysimpressive themes and stylistic approaches while making the JeanneDielman&nbspfilm.In her previous films, Akerman had also portrayed the same ideas oftragedy and domestic anxiety. For instance, in the film Sautema ville (1968), Akermanwas shown performing kitchen chores, such as cleaning, cooking,sealing the windows and doors (Hoberman3).These ideas were part of the chaotic and compressed scenes shown inJeanneDielman&nbspfilm(Margulies2).

Jeanne’sfilm is a classical piece in its collection Akerman has used aFlemish color to depict interiors and linearity while developing thefilm plot for the first, second and third day. These aspects arerequiescat to most European cinematic arts (Hoberman6).The film has concrete images that enhance visibility. As viewerswatches the scene shots, one becomes acquainted with her/his ownpsych as Jeanne becomes restless and then interested. The image shownof Jeanne while washing utensils draws the viewer’s eye to thetiles, the color of the sink and the rags (Margulies7).Akerman used this perceptual and visual oscillation to depict thefilm’s disquiet nature. The fixed and obsessive daily schedule isused to depict Jeanne’s quest for control in her life. This isevident in Jeanne’s fixed menu, daily chore routine and sexualovertures. The need to become independent and manage her own lifeinfluences Jeanne to commit murder (Margulies9).

Akermanused real scenes and images to capture the conventionalrepresentation of feminism.Jeanne Dielman&nbspfilmis a classical lesson on structural economy the film is more ofclass commercialism with daily activities, costs and scenespresenting Jeanne’s sensational scenes of prostitution (Margulies5).In its structural aspect, the film links to opposing roles the roleof a domestic mother and a part-time prostitute. In these structuralways the film conveys feminism issues’ of women alienation, labor,sexual exploitation and male chauvinism (Margulies7).For instance, in the film despite the fact that Jeanne’s son is anadolescent, he expects her mother’s care and controls her evenshout “You missed the button!” Jeanne mental disturbance can berelated to her male client who presumably exploits her sexually anddoes not pay Jeanne enough money for her subsistence (Margulies6).

Inthe film JeanneDeilman,Akerman dexterity in illustrating overt behaviors is unmeasured. Inthe film that takes over two hours viewers are taken through thedaily chores as done by Jeanne in real life. Many viewers woulddismiss the film as boring, monotonous and un-dramatic. However, acloser analysis reveals Akerman’s intended naturalistic film thatdefines and explores the suffering of single mothers. Faithfulviewers would agree that, Jeanne Dielman film is the most realisticfilm (Margulies5).The daily routine chores get implanted in one’s mind with time oneis able to anticipate, watch and listen. In one scene, Jeanne isshown sitting in an armchair restlessly and full of anxiety. Shetouches her chest, turns off the leaving room lights and proceeds tothe bedroom. This gesture depicts women’s domain kitchen andbedroom. In this case, Jeannie anxiety and restlessness signifiesdisplaced sexuality (Margulies5).The film illustrates a juxtaposition of women under patriarchysystem. However, Akerman refuted these claims that the film was anillustration of ‘women under patriarchy system.’ In contrast,Akerman argued that, the household chores done by Jeanne reflects theloving gestures portrayed by women. In part, the author reiteratedthat she was influenced by actions seen from her single mother andaunt (Margulies3).

Onthe second day, the viewer is used to Jeanne’s routine and one isquick to note changes in Jeanne actions. For instance, she forgets tocover the tureen where she hid her money. While cooking Jeanne’shair appears disheveled and overcooks her dinner. Later, the camerashifts position and showing Jeanne’s different position this helpsin unraveling the character’s changing mental processes. One funnyscene shows Jeanne carrying her pot round the house this showsJeanne’s loss in memory (Margulies5).To unravel Jeanne changed routine, Jeanne is shown dropping a spoonafter washing. This shows Jeanne changed ‘rigid order’ to‘fragile order’ as depicted with the unwashed dishes.

Thechanged routine is unexpected and portrays Jeanne attempts tomaintain her routine moving round the house trying to recover hermemory. In another aspect, when the coffee tastes bad Jeanne usesseveral remedies such as changing milk, sugar and pouring the coffeethrough the Melitta filter. Despite these remedies, the coffee doesnot taste better. In this aspect, Jeanne is depicted as having mentaldisturbance (Margulies2).

JeanneDielmanfilm ends with Jeanne changed routine climaxing in the third day. Thedouble ending indicates a link between excess and containment.Jeanne’s ‘troubled life’ peaks after she fatally stabs herclient on the third day. After having a ‘good time’ with herclient, Jeanne tucks her blouse in her skirt, looks at her maleclient and dexterously stubs him using scissors. This action isunexpected to the audience who are used to Jeanne’s usual calmcomposure. For instance, in the first days, Jeanne does not haveorgasm with the client but on the third day she ‘climaxes.’ Thisaction is symbolic and depicts the climax of contained and excesssexual repression. Jeanne’s sustained ‘anger’ climaxes toorgasm and violence (Margulies6).

Jeanneorgasm’s as her last sexual encounter and as a sign of breaking the‘oppressive’ daily routine of prostitution with the male client.The last episode signifies Jeanne’s quest to control her life andremain autonomous. By engaging in the daily prostitution, Jeannefeels exploited and tied to an oppressive habit. In this way, Jeanneis portrayed as one who has made a resolve to become flexible andmanage her own life. This scene is foreshadowed in a previous scenewhere Jeanne is shown banging a glass of milk on the table. As youwatch Jeanne bang the glass of milk on the table, one get theimpression of split milk this is dramatic as Jeanne killing of herclient. JeanneDielman filmtheme is in tandem with feminist issues that the movement wasadvocating in early 70s. During this period, prostitution and womenrights dominated political debates. The film aligns the sexual andeconomic politics that hailed during the feminist movements. Severalfeminist proponents in the avant-garde era felt that the filmcaptured women issues (Hoberman6).

JeanneDielmanfilm portrays a naturalistic cinematography with a well tight-framedapproach. Babette Magoltes influence and Akerman’s directness madeit possible to have familiar setting and direction that capturedeverything in the scenes. The use of detailed expressions in thescenes, the routine monotony and tight-framed shots depicts Akerman’seffort to present feminism ideas on the role of women at that time.Unlike the fictional and dramatic early cinema, Jeanne’s filmdefied such conventions and brought real life aspects. In thisrespect, many are those who find the film unimpressive. However, forthose who adore naturalism and realistic films, Jeanne Dielsman issuch a film.

Akerman’sfilm is based on psychology and depicts Jeanne’s feelings, memoryand anxiety. These aspects are shown through the protagonist’sdaily routine activities (Margulies5).The first impression created by the film is Jeanne’s obsession withher daily activities. However, due to psychological disturbance, thedaily routine becomes tiresome and the character feel bound to therigid routine. This is evident in the second day when Jeanne losesinterests in following her routine to wash dishes, loses her buttonand forgets her cooking’s (Hoberman8). The aspect of disturbed mind is evident when Jeanne walks roundher house holding an empty pot. The same incident happens when Jeannetries various remedies to change the taste of her coffee.Occasionally, Jeanne suffers from unexplained anxiety and forgets tobrush her hair. The scenes illustrated in the second and third dayclearly indicate Jeanne’s disturbed mind (Margulies7).

Sexand sexual exploitation is another recurring theme in the movie.Although not well shown in the film, viewers can not hesitate to notethe significance of sex in determining the climax of Jeanne ‘mentaldisturbance.’ It is through the tribulation of sex displacementthat Jeanne suffers ‘mental disturbance.’ Ostensibly, for lack ofa caring lover, Jeanne possibly feels sexually exploited and the‘returns’ from her daily prostitution does not cover her dailyneeds. Jeanne’s son feels anger, hostility and fear when he findshis mother in the bedroom. This aspect brings out the Oedipus dilemmaon Jeanne’s son this is a psychological problem.


JeanneDielman film is an astonishing and compelling film that brings outvarious cinematography and thematic meanings. In particular, the filmis a tight framed master piece presenting real-time experience of apoor single mother. The naturalistic routine scene shots makes thefilm exhibit meticulous details and enables viewers’ sense impedingdoom in the life of the young widow. The film is set in simplefamiliar setting and captures detailed scenes as they occur in theirnatural setting. In this way, viewers are able to assess thetribulations that befall the single mother. Jeanne, the mainprotagonist is shown as struggling to have control over her life.

Jeannelife activities take toil on her and she gets tired, frustrated andsloppy. However, this ‘memory loss’ helps Jennea in finding herway out of the rigid routine. In the end, the film comes to an endwhen Jennea kills her male client this is interpreted as breakingthe ‘rigid’ daily routine. In all ways, the film depicts a womanstruggling to ‘liberate’ herself and take control over her life.The film is inclined to feminism ideas of sex and gender politics.Overall, Jeanne Dielsman film exhibits wide range of cinematographystyles such as dramatic visualization, foreshadowing, allegoricalsymbolism and time-framing. All these aspects, makes the film moreappealing and captivating to the viewers while exploring the theme ofsex, women role and emancipation.


Hoberman,J.(2001) [4 January 2000]. &quot100Best Films of the 20th Century: Village Voice Critics` Poll&quot.TheVillage Voice(reprint ed.). Reprinted by AMC.

Margulies,Ivone. &quotAMatter of Time: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080Bruxelles&quot.FilmEssays.The Criterion Collection.Retrieved 6March2015.

CavellStanley,Film,ed. William Rothman, SUNY at Stony Brook Press, 2005, p. 257. Print.