It's the kind of film that cineastes discuss in whispers. It has an awkward title, and an awkward running time: 3 hours and 21 minutes. It has long been unavailable on video, and only those with access to the occasional special screenings -- or to bootleg DVDs -- have been able to see it in the past 34 years. Those who have seen it describe it with awe: nothing happens. Well, not exactly nothing. The main character is a housewife. She cleans the tub, washes the dishes, shines shoes, cooks dinner, goes shopping and sometimes sews. Oh, and she's a prostitute who sees one male client each afternoon, just before her teenage son gets home from school. But, of course, that's exactly when the film decides to cut away. The clients go into the bedroom. Cut. They come out again, fork over the cash and leave.
The film is Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), written and directed by the Belgian-born Chantal Akerman when she was not quite 25. Today it makes its debut on an official Criterion Collection DVD, thereby erasing much of the myth surrounding it. I just finished watching all of it, and it's far more accessible than you might think, and far more cleverly constructed than it seems. The film takes place over the course of three days, and Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) receives her first male visitor in the first ten minutes. Say "housewife" and practically anyone will glaze over, but say "prostitute" and everyone perks up. So we watch, waiting to see just how Jeanne juggles this one strange aspect of her life. When will the next guy arrive? What does Jeanne do to prepare?