by Jim Ridley
In essence, Akerman's film is a suspense movie in which the heroine's attention (or lack thereof) to a multitude of tiny details slowly reveals hairline fissures in her psyche. ... The film observes Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig), a middle-aged Belgian woman, over the course of about 60 hours as she goes about ... well, to call it her "daily routine" would be hilarious understatement. Military units the world over dream of such regimentation. We watch her prepare meals, make the bed, do the dishes, go shopping -- all with a degree of brisk exactitude that implies an overwhelming terror of losing control. ... Oh, and each afternoon brings a gentleman caller, with whom Jeanne repairs to the bedroom and from whom she receives a cash payment when they emerge some hours later. Akerman pointedly keeps that door closed until the movie's penultimate scene, when something conventionally dramatic finally happens, but you can sense the mechanical thrust of her hips in every plate she scrubs and potato she peels. Back in 1975, when Jeanne Dielman was made, its (literal) climax was the subject of most discourse on the film, whose champions tended to extol its radical feminism. ... As in a Hitchcock picture, the explosion itself is of no real consequence; what keeps you engaged and alert is the sight of the timer on the bomb counting down and down and down toward zero. What matters in Jeanne Dielman isn't the reductive destination but the incrementally nerve-wracking journey, in which a dropped spoon or a lid not replaced immediately on a jar portends emotional catastrophe.