Fishing With Jon
Disinterest in film
I saw this movie from 1975 called “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” that got reprinted recently and entered back into larger conversations about how we watch movies—moreover how we receive and criticize art. In this film, the protagonist, Jeanne Dielman played by a young Lebanese-French actress named Delphine Seyrig, goes about her daily routine, where she mostly cleans her home for the majority of the film’s three and a half hour run time.
This all seems fairly dull as an audience; the film is excruciating and monotone. But, as pointed out by the many essayists and critics who adore it, it is exactly the point. “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” is laconic and tedious because it’s supposed to be—it’s an extended metaphor about the social condition of the housewife in contemporary 20th century Belgium.
So you have this disinterest in being entertaining as an art form. So when I watch this movie, I, as a critic, cannot simply say “I was bored—this film is bad,” because the film is meant to be interpreted this way, it’s supposed to feel claustrophobic and inescapable. It succeeds if you feel this way.
That sounds strange at first, a foreign concept, but really it’s not. Think about roller coasters or horror films. You wouldn’t feel like a George Romero or Hideo Nakata movie served you very well if it didn’t terrify you. This is not an atypical service you’d expect from entertainment but it’s one of most successful forms of film and always has been.
This makes the idea of film (or art) criticism even more convoluted and vague. How could I rightly write a scathing review for “Jeanne Dielman” when it did what it intended to do as a film? This becomes even more complex in the age of the so-called “Cringe Film”, where films are made with intent to be BAD movies. Films like Neil Breen’s “Fateful Findings” or the filmography of Lloyd Kaufman. Lambasting movies for being pretty bad is nothing new (see Mystery Science Theater 3000).
But there’s a considerable difference between something that is unintentionally atrocious, like Tommy Wiseau’s infamous film “The Room”, versus something that was made TO be bad. The intent matters, and the tongue-in-cheek style often leaves much to be desired. The intensely poor quality of the “Scary Movie” franchise is fairly evident of this.
I left “Jeanne Dielman” not entirely certain how to feel. I know I was bored, that’s for sure. But I also acknowledge that I wouldn’t call it a boring movie.