In the wake of Chantal Akerman‘s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (’75) topping the BFI Sight & Sound poll, I had to give it another shot. So I watched it on the Criterion Channel, on my Macbook Air. Most of it, I should say. I made it through the first 90 minutes the hard way (i.e., without cheating), but then something inside me began to wither and crumple, and I began to watch ten-minute portions. But I missed nothing.

Jeannie Diulman is a statement, all right. Three hours and 21 minutes of torpor, tedium and depression. Such a sad, suffocating and listless film. (Yes, that’s the point but c’mon.) It’s about a life of a prim and proper sex worker (Day of the Jackal’s Delphine Seyrig) that’s mainly about servitude and the renunciation of joy and the suppression of the spirit. A film about regimented motherhood and the raising of a dull, homely, tragically obedient son whose life is doomed to the same kind of repetition, the same dutiful stiflings and silences and submissions.

Seyrig is Spartacus in the kitchen — a sex-hating sex gladiator without a sword. A slave who endlessly prepares meals and adheres to regularity, regularity and more regularity. She never breaks out of Capua, so to speak, and we never see her having sex except at the very end, and in an odd, ugly and curious way at that. But we do see her prepare many dinners.

Duty, diligence and desperation, partly due to very little money and partly due to having nothing inside. A film about being numb and experiencing a form of daily resignation and death. A woman who owns no record player and hardly ever listens to music on her shitty radio and of course never sings or even hums along. The film simulates emptiness, nothingness, endless mediocrity. A woman who’s obviously smart and discerning and disciplined enough to hold down a decent job but has decided instead on a life of miserable prostitution and sporadic infant care.

Grunting pig that I am, I found the chaste bathtub scene (and Seyrig’s glorious, half-glimpsed nudity and the slight, tantalizing ripples of middle-aged flab) the only respite, and thank God for that and Delphine Seyrig in general! But I came to deeply despise Seyrig / Dielman’s son, whose stifled life is so dull and deflated that he’s almost a figure of evil. I wanted to reach into the screen and give this wimp a good slap across the chops.

The second-to-last scene is the only one that shows Seyrig having it off with one of her homely, pathetic johns. It concludes with a sudden, impulsive and unconvincingly depicted murder of a certain ugly fellow — a scissor stabbing in the neck. Followed by a final scene in which Seyrig meditates about her life and this murder and the certainty of being freed from her agonizing life by being sentenced to prison (or, if she’s lucky, to life in a mental hospital).

So after submitting the viewer to a form of torture for three hours, Seyrig / Dielman finally “breaks out of Capua,” but she never revolts in a full, satisfying or expressive way. For Jeanne Dielman is the anti-Belle du Jour. A flatline version. Such a tragic meditation, but despite what the film’s many admirers seem to believe, it’s not a profound (much less an illuminating or transcendent) thing to subject viewers to this much pique and boredom.