Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) is a middle-aged Walloon woman living, as one might guess from the title, in Brussels. She lives what seems to be a pretty standard, indeed routine life: cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, fixing dinner for her teenaged son Sylvain when he gets home. The only thing surprising about her is her job: Jeanne is a prostitute who entertains customers in the apartment when her son is out.
Jeanne's job seems as routine as the rest of her life. Having sex with the similarly middle-aged men who come to her door during the day is about as uneventful as cooking potatoes or knitting a sweater for her son. However, there is a disturbance in Jeanne's life, which is about to be upended.
- Bathtub Scene: It is kind of fanservice—Delphine Seyrig nude, everyone—but it's also kind of not, as Jeanne's nightly bath is just another part of her dull and monotonous day.
- Dramatic Irony: Surely Jeanne cringes when her son says "Well, if I were a woman, I could never make love with someone I wasn't deeply in love with."
- Extremely Short Timespan: About 48 hours in the life of a middle-aged prostitute, as three johns visit her over three days.
- Le Film Artistique: Would you like to watch a 3 1/2 hour movie that follows a woman over three days of her punishingly dull daily routine? Would you like to watch said woman cook dinners and go to the post office and knit and do the dishes? Would you like to watch her have sex—don't worry, that's not exciting either. There are also multiple scenes where Jeanne sits at a table and stares off into space.
- Foreshadowing: Hints after Jeanne's second client departs that something has disturbed her equilibrium and thrown off her formerly machine-like domestic routine. She burns the potatoes; she starts having to backtrack after forgetting to turn off lights in the apartment. On the third day of the story she drops her son's shoes while shining them. She actually steps outside to her balcony!
- Kitchen Sink Drama: Literally! Jeanne actually washes dishes in the kitchen sink. Most of the movie consists of that, along with all her other mundane domestic tasks.
- Leave the Camera Running: The camera sits on a counter in the title character's kitchen through long takes without zooms or reverse angles, where characters go in and out of the frame as necessary and we can only hear them. Sometimes it stays on as she leaves the house to work or do errands. Something like 95% of the movie is Jeanne going about her domestic routine—doing the dishes, boiling potatoes, shopping for groceries, making the bed—while a stationary camera runs and nothing happens to advance the story. The camera never so much as twitches, staying fixed in various locations while Jeanne goes about her business. The film ends with a six minute shot of a bloodstained Jeanne sitting at a table, doing nothing.
- Long Title: It's her adddress. Even the title is long and boring!
- Mundane Made Awesome: Inverted, as this film makes the mundane...even more mundane. Watch Jeanne Dielman brew coffee for 11 minutes!
- Murphy's Bed: Folding up her son's bed into a rather cleverly disguised sofa chair is just part of the dullness of Jeanne's day.
- No Plot? No Problem!: Of course the viewer's reaction may differ as to how much the lack of plot is a problem. But the film obviously sets out to depict the mind-numbing tedium of domestic tasks. It does so by—being mind-numbingly tedious, showing Jeanne going about her daily routine (even the hooking is boring, until the end) over 3 1/2 hours. Until the ending, nothing happens.
- Real Time: Not really, as the film takes place over three days. But each of Jeanne's boring little tasks is shown in its entirety. An actual Cooking Show probably wouldn't spend as much time showing someone making breaded veal as this film uses to show Jeanne making some.
- Rule of Three: Three days, three clients for Jeanne's services. The third one regrets it.
- Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: The third client is leisurely humping away on top of Jeanne when she gets an odd look on her face. Soon, and clearly to her shock and bewilderment, she has an orgasm. She's shown looking upset while she's getting dressed. Then she murders the john by stabbing him in the neck with a pair of scissors.
- Silence Is Golden: Long, long stretches without any dialogue. The first 15 minutes of the movie, in which Jeanne services a client and then her son comes home, have only two lines of dialogue. Most of the rest of the movie is Jeanne puttering around the house in silence.
- Super OCD: Jeanne gives off vibes of this. Note how precisely she lays out the dinner ware, or how she pulls out two cubes of sugar and neatly matches them together before putting them in her coffee. When she loses a button on her coat, she has to find an exact copy of that button. She never seems to relax at home, to take some time to read a book or go for a walk or lie down and take a nap; in one scene where she is without a task to occupy her she starts polishing the ceremonial plates in the curio cabinet. She is visibly upset on the third day when her usual table at the coffee shop is taken and her usual waitress isn't there.
- Single Mom Stripper: Hooking at home to support her son.
- Title Drop: Jeanne reads her address off a letter.
- The Un-Reveal: Has Sylvain figured out how his mom is paying the bills? His comments seem strangely apropos: the first night he's home he says he can't understand how a woman would sleep with a man she doesn't love, and on the second night he talks about his father and how he didn't like it once he got The Talk from a friend and found out his mom and dad were having sex. The film doesn't clarify.
- The Voice: The woman who drops off her baby for Jeanne to babysit for a while, then returns, and goes on an exceedingly boring spiel about her day. The camera remains fixed (as always) on Jeanne inside the door, so the woman is only a voice on the other side of the door.