Jeanne Dielman and the Mise en Scène of Meatloaf

To enter the Criterion Collection’s new movie contest, your acting has to be as good as your cooking.
jeanne dielman

When fans of the 1975 experimental film Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles talk about the hypnotic effect of Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman’s groundbreaking feminist masterpiece, they generally express awe at the scenes in which the protagonist, a middle-class widow, played by New Wave superstar Delphine Seyrig, stands in her kitchen and quietly makes a meatloaf, breads veal cutlets, and peels potatoes in real time. Fans who commit to the three-hour-and-20-minute opus often leave the theater moved by these small domestic moments in the life of the sad, approachable Dielman, who also turns tricks in the afternoon to make ends meet. “Some are daunted by the movie because it’s so long,” says Peter Becker, president of the Criterion Collection, which just released the classic on DVD this month. “But it celebrates and explores the everyday life of real people, and it actually plays like a suspense film: ‘Oh, my god, she forgot to put the lid on the soup tureen.’” Criterion has also come up with an ingenious way to attract new viewers: hosting a Jeanne Dielman Video Cooking Contest on YouTube, separated into three categories—meatloaf, cutlets, and potatoes. Each winner will get a $100 gift certificate to use on the Criterion Collection website, while the Grand Prize winner will receive a Blu-ray player. So far, most of the entries (which can be seen on You Tube) are faithful knock-offs of Jeanne Dielman’s famous prep-and-cook scenes. But Becker is hoping more avant-garde approaches materialize before the September 28 deadline, or at least videos that make you hungry. Says Becker: “We don’t have anybody [yet] who is really cooking, who actually looks like she’s cooking something she wants to eat.”

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