Friday, February 20, 2009

Women's work

Blogging about the 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles seems better suited to another place I write, but here it is nonetheless.

I'm guessing most of you haven't heard of it, let alone seen it. There are good reasons for that. From what I've read, it's never been distributed on home video in the United States. Also, it's 201 minutes of long takes of a widowed mother of one doing domestic work, often in real time (or long enough for it to seem as such). One other thing...she also brings one john into her home each afternoon.

It's a highly regarded film, particularly among feminist academics, and it's easy to understand why. Essentially Jeanne Dielman documents the mundane life of the housewife and the affect it has on her. The soul-crushing length and tedium is the point. For example, when Jeanne rises in the morning, we see a lengthy, unbroken shot of her making the coffee, getting the table ready for her son's breakfast, and shining his shoes. However long it took to do it as how long the static camera stares at Delphine Seyrig, the actress whose terrific performance is critical to the film.

Anyway, this was not a place where I expected to see knitting, but there's some quality knitting time in this art film. On the first day Jeanne gets out the sweater she's making for her son and knits awhile. If only she spent as much time knitting in the film as she devotes to some of the other household chores. (She knits briefly again on the second night.) Of course, knitting makes sense as something to have her doing because practically everything the character does could be marginalized as women's work.

Jeanne's needles fascinated me because they looked like those I commented on when writing about that B-movie with an extended sequence of knitting. The straight needles appeared to have metal tips kind of like Knit Picks Options, but the rest of each needle looked like flimsy plastic or something that gained a curve with use. Were these de rigueur in the '70s?

There's one other knitting-related scene. As a knitter I say the scene is too brief, which is not a complaint I imagine gets leveled at a slowly paced film nearly three and half hours long. You see, there's one scene where she goes to a yarn shop to find the right yarn that she needs to finish the sweater. (She is probably visiting a craft store as it looks like bolts of fabric are in the background, but that's close enough.) I'm embarrassed to say that this scene passed for some serious excitement for me. Then again, this is a movie in which tension is found in a scene of Jeanne peeling potatoes.

If I sound dismissive of the film, I'm not. I liked it, perhaps more than I expected considering the imposing running time. It works as intended and lives up to its reputation. Nevertheless, I'm well aware that most of you would consider it to be pretty boring, but then again, it's unlikely you'll run across it anyway.

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