I normally dislike neorealist films, and clocking in a full 201 minutes, Jeanne Dielman is as neorealist as it gets. Wide static shots, minimal editing, you get the idea.
Maybe it's all the meditating I've been doing, but I loved it. I'll never watch the whole damn thing again, but it's one of the better films I've seen all year. Jeanne Dielman follows the life of a middle aged woman who goes about her daily errands - from dishwashing and grocery shopping to caretaking and prostitution - with a dispassionate, collected, orderly manner that perfectly matches the slow paced style of the film.
The extremity of the film allows you to become hyperaware of your ways of looking. With precious little dialogue and no obvious trajectory to the plot (I knew absolutely nothing about the film prior to watching it), I found my mind grasping for some kind of narrative or meaning, trying to Sherlock some kind of storyline out of what felt like an utterly opaque style. Is this a feminist treatise on domestic work and sex work? Is that young man her husband? What conclusions can be drawn from the way Jeanne dresses? etc. At some point, you need to zen out and notice how much more you can understand if you stop projecting your busy mind onto the film and allow yourself to observe without judgement.
What Jeanne Dielman masters is the rhythm of this woman's life, each chore enclosed within its own parenthesis, punctuated by the carefully crafted sounds of her largely mute existence, the changing light of day and her careful movements. All these small details, which would normally be overlooked in a more conventional film, come to gain great saliance. How the distinct aural beats of quotidian domestic life - cups being placed on saucers, heels clicking on the floor, doors shutting in their jambs - create an almost John Cage-esque musical effect. How the jittery neon blue lights shining into the living room at night irritate while the artificial light in the bedroom seems deadening somehow. How Jeanne straightens her sweater over and over and over and over again throughout the film as if she is resetting her composure. In this way, Jeanne Dielman accomplishes the impossible task of being utterly engrossing.
Despite the fact that Jeanne spends most of her time alone, taking care of domestic tasks, the film skillfully manipulates the aforementioned details and builds a growing sense of unease and distress, a vague oppressiveness. Like many neorealist films, this all comes to a head, but after waiting 3 hours, the impact is quite impressive. Highly recommended.