It is a four-minute bath here and the tub is concomitant with routine, and not luxury. The woman is, for a brief period of time, confined within the cinematic box of the camera, which records time unobtrusively as it is. One hears the sound of the running hot water tap. This act is something between the first two acts: too silent to be narrative and too brief to be a painting. Yet it also stands out from the two for its stark realism, where the two before were impressionistic. Bathing is treated as a task among many tasks to do and treated just the same. This same-ness actually pervades the whole three-hour film. Some say monotony, but I much prefer monochromy as an aesthetic observation; this treatment of an undifferentiated surface of time brought about by both modern art and photography. Filmed with a straight-on perspective without cuts, it is one of the most monochrome films that I have seen.
One cannot bear too much of the real. Time is perpetually recurring and capitalist. Let me explain. Here, time is run by economy and the clock, and things have to be done by a set period. Economy runs throughout the film. From the way the film is shot to the prudence and frugality of the character. This might be a European thing (I coming from Southeast Asia), in cold weather, but the sponge bath and careful use of the tap suggest a kind of prudence and economy with time and resources, instead of lying in a tub full of water. There are no distractions in the film. This becomes a prime example of how technique marries subject, form merges with content. One becomes utterly transfixed by this scene and at the same time, one becomes uneasy, watching a woman bathe, because you are self-consciously aware of being a witness here. In fact, what should be alienating finds the most identification with me because upon watching this again, it is no longer just an aesthetic treat. I had unwittingly become a homemaker myself, but in a largely circumstantial sense, bogged by the burden of maintenance, domestic routine and economic realities. However, this character performs this labour not only everyday for herself without recompense, but also on demand for you the viewer. What should have been a respite for reflection and self-care becomes alienated, insurmountable and unbearable instead.
I want to move on and talk about the scene itself and why it is special. The woman is filmed from a side profile sitting in the bath. It is not confrontational like when filmed from the front, or voyeuristic and diminished when filmed from the back. It is discreet enough, and you get a complete perspective of the architecture, yet, you never get the full picture. I always feel as a photographer, painter or filmmaker, when you portray a figure from the side, you offer the viewer the possibility of the subject’s interior monologue. Unlike Act 1, you never hear her thoughts. This renders the scene more opaque as the subject is not completely permeable. She becomes an object when you notice how her skin tone matches the coral pink wall above, which are complemented by the grey-green marble tiles. The carefully coiffed curls of her perm remain untouched during the bath. The caesura of the film happens when Jeanne has an empty interval in her routine, due to waking up an hour earlier. Her anxiety takes over and she does not know what to do, and things start to unravel in a concatenation of negligent incidents, that lead to an event of drastic proportion concerning a pair of scissors. This measure by the director seems to be taken as if to stimulate the viewer back into our fantasy with death and violence, perhaps to end our profound boredom.
I change my mind—it is not alienating, insurmountable or unbearable. It was my initial perception. In my second draft of writing, I am tasked to confront maybe this weak paragraph that tries to tie things up too soon, too neatly or correctly. How to conclude? Well, I said before this act defines her and gives her ownership and control over things that are beyond her own. It’s a woman’s labour and pride of house and her dignity to take care of herself that frees her from insurmountable forces. This busy-ness and consistency to fill one’s heart and mind surely is enough for one to exist. I ignore the previous metaphors then. But this is not it. Neither is it how this scene punctures previous representations of women in film. I come back to this line again: “what should be alienating finds the most identification with me because upon watching this again, it is no longer just an aesthetic treat.” I had unwittingly become a homemaker myself. I fucking hate housework, but recently I had begun to be more present doing my chores, and though it has not reached the stage of religious routine, like prayer, it has become somewhat occupying and fulfilling, duration-rich in an event such as doing the dishes. It became somewhat bearable—habits begin to form familiar shapes, and that line from Beckett started to make sense, something about how the creation of the world did not take place once and for all time, but happens every day. So, a little Zen goes a circular way.
I also think sometimes writing too, like bathtubs here, approximate memory and volume through their qualities—pneumatic, painterly, and concrete.