To the Memory of Chantal Ackerman (1950-2015)

The smile on Chantal Ackerman’s face in this photo is, may be a kind of a bitter smile or, may be, the smile of bitterness. But her face is softened by her wise and even tender gaze and her gentle wrinkles.

Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) is looking at her son like, indeed, only a mother can – by appropriating his very presence, his very existence and even enjoys his very white skin that matches her own.

Mother and son loved late hour talks, and she never neglected serious topics with him and he didn’t try to evade either. For them pre-sleeping topics were a precious preamble of mother-and-son routine exchange of two minds.

The woman of the house and her son were living more than modest. Here, we see a not too often client paying Jeanne Dielman very accurately for his visit. Jeanne and her son lived quietly and were never bothered by any visitors. Pay attention to the position of Jeanne’s hands, waiting for the money – this position is not out of the extraordinary, it’s rather a habitual one.

Jeanne Dielman very seldom had the chance of buying for herself a rare thing. But when eventually she did she was enjoying it. Her elegance was a matter of taste, not matter of her closet. Look at how she is matter-of-factly enjoying it, with a pleasant accentuation.

Every day at a regular time Jeanne prepares the meal. She is never too sad or melancholic. She was always ready to explain or respond to anything her son asked her. Sometimes she was even very talkative.

Sometimes she was expecting visitors. Then she, indeed, became a bit depressed. She looked at herself – just sitting while waiting for her visitor. It was she, the mirror and the waiting. In such situations when her son returned from school he would try to entertain her with modest jokes.

The necessity to “wait for clients” made hygienic bathroom habitual. From one side it occupied Jeanne, making her busy but from another – as if, forgetful and bored.

Sometimes it was possible to think that Jeanne is crying instead of washing herself in the bathtub.

At times Sylvain (Jeanne’s son) had the impression that his mother is sitting in the same posture in the bathtub without moving for a long time and would try to call her from his room through the closed door.

When Jeanne was modestly but elegantly dressed up it usually meant that she was expecting a client – mother needed to make money for her son. But this very point doesn’t seem too important for Chantal Ackerman’s film. This film seems to be totally emphasizing a different point. It’s not so much that life is difficult, as it’s well known, and that prostitution is widespread. But closer to the end Ackerman has prepared a much more radical idea for us. And we cannot avoid it.

Jeanne Dielman is a person who tried to earn some money to improve the life of her family. But suddenly her new lover has… awakened her orgasmic capacity. Jeanne lived honestly by trying to take care and feed her family, but unexpectedly her strange and unpleasant sensuous discovery took this very right from her to make money through her sexual function. For the first time Jeanne had started to feel herself as a money-maker through her body. Awakening her sexual potency… destroyed Jeanne Dielman’s honest sexual life for money. Jeanne has sense of tormenting shame for starting to feel an erotic excitement when she was with her clients.

For Jeanne Dielman to feel “orgasmic monster” means to stop to be a decent human being. Jeanne felt herself as a pseudo-erotic organ. Nobody knows what happened with so called “man” who was responsible for Jeanne Dielman’s “perverted awakening”. Nobody knows where this terrifying man is today, is he alive or already dead?

Only Jeanne Dielman can know what really happened to her, if, of course, she could be inclined to share it with others.

Jeanne Dielman knows. Look at her hand. Look at her head to the side. Look at the spots on her blouse. What happened? And what will come? That’s how simple everyday sexuality can turn out… fatal. And that’s without any demonic connotation. Many women who knew Jeanne for years and respected her very much for her purity and orderliness really suffered for what happened to her!

Young Chantal Ackerman

But the point of Chantal Ackerman is different – the point is the role of sexuality in human life – its need in human life. Human beings cannot live only by work and money. Sexual deviations appeared because people cannot… love, because instead of love people invent – lust, pure physical satisfaction instead of love. Many think they need sexual satisfaction instead of need for love. Or they need love instead of sexual satisfaction.

Sexual satisfaction is a basic human need. Eros enlightens human existence. It is what Jeanne Dielman will be able to discover. Eros is not Lust! Eros can be serious – much more serious than money and power.