Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles [1975)

Lots of commas.

And sub-clauses.

And finally Santa.

Enfin.

That something happens in this film is a miracle.

It is a monument of nothingness.  [hang on]

A monument of boredom.  [wait for it]

A truly glorious feminist film.  [truly]

Quite simply, this is one of the hardest films I’ve ever tried to watch (much less review).

I was familiar with the late Chantal Akerman’s style at least a bit.

[may she rest in peace]

Nothingness.  An obsession.

It’s closer to the Warhol end of the spectrum than Bergman.

Uncomfortable shots.  The time-image.

We don’t have time to read about the time-image. [Bergson]

Deleuze.  De loser.

We.  Miss out.

And so when we are thrust into a film such as this…

There ARE no films like this.

The nausea of which Sartre spoke.  Wrote.

I knew that Akerman admired Godard.

She was already in my good graces for that.

But I almost didn’t make it through this 3-hour-21-minute film.

From one J.D. to another.

Jeffrey Dahmer to Jeanne Dielman.

Dielman’s life is just as horrible.

She might as well work the 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. shift at a chocolate factory.

Belgium.

Every activity she caresses.  Like finest lace.

And so we see the Godard of Vivre sa vie.

That is the premise.

The “ooh-la-la”.

But it is much more Marina Vlady than Anna Karina.

2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle.

Washing dishes.  Interminably.

That lifeless, empty stare.

Perhaps it is Brecht.

Distancing.  Reality.  But symbolic.  Unreal.

Verfremdungseffekt.

Epic.  201 Dalmatian minutes.

Force the issue.

We dummies still worship Delphine Seyrig.

In the same way we worship Anamaria Marinca.

Because we’re sick of Western women…sick of soul-sucking Western culture.

Sick of the Easter bunny.  Sick of Santa Claus.

We want the East.  The Eastern bloc.

And further East.  Chinese acting.

Brecht.

Delphine from Saussure.

Cup and Saussure.

Such amazing acting by Seyrig.  To not act.

To act as if she wasn’t being watched.

To shine shoes and drop the brush.  [An event!  Here…]

To disturb the cream bottle.  Precariously returns.

To not apologize to the camera.

To get her apron caught…

The hardest button to button.

And the adrenaline-pounding rush of shopping for buttons.

Buttons.  Those little things which go through eyelets.

Like trying to find the correct shade of mauve.  All over town.

And so in the end it ends as an action film.

You think I kid.

But Akerman must have had a soft spot for Chabrol…(viz. Hitchcock).

Let’s play the quiet game for three hours…and see if it will drive you nuts.

Doniol-Valcroze pays a visit.

But it doesn’t matter.

What matters is the can of Ajax on the side of the tub.

The green and red.

Might have my brands wrong.

Tiny daggers of color.

Nowhere.

But there’s one.

 

-PD

 

Ostře sledované vlaky [1966)

There is no precursor for this delicious film.

Closely watched trains…

There is no warning.  No real foreshadowing of what awaits Miloš Hrma.

And I, of course, will not give away the game.

But let me tell you about this watershed moment in cinema.

You could say Czech New Wave.  You could also say Czechoslovak New Wave.

In the case of the auteur in question, Jiří Menzel, it is the former.

The movement was already going by this point.

1966.  Almost the midpoint, if we say 1962-1972.

But none of that matters too much.

What matters is this film.

Closely Watched Trains.  Ostře sledované vlaky.

And so we started with Romania.  A new wave.  A current phenomenon.  Briefly in vogue.  And completely deserving of the praise.

And we made a point to look elsewhere.  To Iran.  Because of Kiarostami.

And now we add a much older New Wave.  It is of particular interest to our first location (Romania).

In globetrotting through movies we hit some odd, beautiful destinations.  Nations.

Czechoslovakia.  No more.  Today.  Czech Republic.  Slovakia.  And Ukraine.

But none of this matters much either.

What matters is Miloš Hrma.  The shy boy.

We know.

Intimately.

Not easy.

If the meek shall inherit the earth (Earth?), then it’s a long time in coming.

I am fond.  Quoting Neil Young.

“Vampire Blues”

“Good times are coming/But they sure coming slow”

Indeed.

That is the situation of Václav Neckář’s character Miloš.

He has the delight of love.  Snow in the air.  Smoke from a steam locomotive.  A cloud of fleeting sparks.

Our heart beats rapidly for cute Jitka Bendová.  And we think of football.  We try to ignore the Bond girl essence of her name.

Because she is one of the most poetic faces in cinema.  No Wikipedia page for her.  At least not in English.

But it is this love between Miloš and Máša which gives us hope.

An adieu from the caboose (football, football).

No doubt Wes Anderson plumbed the depths of Closely Watched Trains while searching for his own cinematic language.

In fact, the beginning of this film is very much like the beginning of every Wes Anderson film.

An exposition of characters.

Some with peg-legs.

An old crazy uncle.

A cow with too many udders.

But the most crucial is the hypnotist.

If there is a precursor to Jiří Menzel (and there must be), then it is Renoir.  Renoir meets Eisenstein.  And sex.

Did I fail to mention?

Closely Watched Trains is a sexual tension which can no longer be crystalized.

And thus history served us well by preserving this document of a different age.

It is a naughty film, but not by today’s standards.

It is sex…as directed by Hitchcock.

And for that it is sexier.  More tense.  Taut.

Consider, for instance, the stamps.  Ooh la la.

If you go ga-ga for Gyllenhaal in Secretary, then you must see the breakthrough moment.  In cinema.

Like the first kiss.  May Irwin.  Thomas Edison.  But actually William Heise.  1896.

Big black maria.  Something/Anything?

Yes, in fact.

First, and most importantly, the telegraphist (as played by Jitka Zelenohorská).  Almost like Chantal Goya in Masculin Féminin, but better.  Same year.  1966.  Maybe Menzel got an idea from Godard.  In any case, Zelenohorská gives one for the ages.  Deliciously naughty.

And lest you run off feeling less-than-substantive edification, it is political as anything.  That’s where Eisenstein comes in.  A brief moment of cinematic intercutting.

And the war.  Like Les Carabiniers.  1963.  The Rossellini inspiration via Godard, perhaps?

But really it is a new cinema.  Czech!  Mind-blowing…

Sex is more erotic with a laugh.  Surreal.  Real.  More real than real.

In a stunning final coup Menzel brought us Naďa Urbánková.

One minute you’re thinking about a girl, another you’ve been rounded up by the state security apparatus.

And then they realize you’re nuts.

And they have pity on you.

Release you into the swaying grass.

And like Chaplin you waltz off into the sunset to fulfill your destiny.

What a film!

-PD