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Jeanne Dielman
Photograph: BFI

The new Greatest Film of All Time has been announced – and it’s not what you’d expect

Sight and Sound’s once-a-decade poll is topped by a female filmmaker for the first time

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
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The film world has been canvassed, the ballots counted and the results are in. Sight and Sound magazine’s new Greatest Film of All Time poll has placed Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels at the top of the tree. 

Chantal Akerman’s 1975 feminist masterpiece has zoomed up the rankings from 36= in 2012 to top spot, replacing Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and following in the footsteps of Orson Welles’s long-time number one, Citizen Kane.

Aside from sparking plenty of debate and catapulting Akerman up any list of famous Belgians worth its salt, the choice reflects a new generation of voters – 1600 in total, including us – and represents a welcome evolution in the conversation around the film canon itself. 

Superficially, a three-and-a-bit-hour observation of its title character (Delphine Seyrig) in close to real-time as she goes about her business over three days, Jeanne Dielman is a slowburn drama that contains multitudes: about life, womanhood, sexuality, domesticity and repressed rage. 

‘Jeanne Dielman challenged the status quo when it was released in 1975 and continues to do so today,’ says Sight and Sound editor Mike Williams. ‘It’s a landmark feminist film, and its position at the top of list is emblematic of better representation in the top 100 for women filmmakers.’

‘Groundbreaking in its unblinking, real-time portrayal of unglamorous house chores as a means of validating female frustration,’ writes Time Out critic Tomris Laffly, ‘Jeanne Dielman's feminist resonance is cemented in perpetuity.’

Sight and Sound’s new list of 100 now boasts 11 films by female filmmakers, including four in the top 20, and seven movies by Black filmmakers, including Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl from 1966.

Here’s the new top ten in full: 

  1. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
  2. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
  3. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
  4. Tokyo Story (Ozu Yasujiro, 1953)
  5. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2001)
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
  7. Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1998)
  8. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
  9. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov,1929)
  10. Singin' in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1951)

Head to the official site for the full list of 100 greatest films or check it out in the BFI Player.

Find out what’s top of Time Out’s 100 Greatest Films of All Time ranking.

The 100 best feminist films of all time.

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