A review of the 1975 film “Jeanne Dielman 23, Quai du Commerce, 1800 Bruxelles”

Every ten years, the prestigious magazine “Sight And Sound” conducts a poll to nominate the top 100 films of all time and, in 2022, the No 1 was “Jeanne Dielman”. In spite of over 60 years of serious film-viewing, I’d never even heard of this work but, when the British Film Institute screened all 100 of the chosen films, this was one that I made a point of seeing for the first time.

The film, written and directed by Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman (then just 24), used a predominately female crew. It chronicles three days in the life of the eponymous Belgian middle-class widow, played by Delphine Seyrig who is rarely off the screen. Jeanne cares for a teenage son who is almost mute in his engagement with his mother.

There is little dialogue and little plot. All the sound is diegetic – that is, inherent in the scene and not overlaid from without. Over a bum-numbing length of 3 hours 21 minutes, we have a series of wide-angle shots of the rooms in her flat with the camera held in a fixed position for very long periods of time as Jeanne cooks, washes and cleans in a life of quotidian routine of domesticity.

Sounds exciting? This feminist work is a vision of oppression and alienation presented in the starkest of terms. It is highly original and, in its own way, ground-breaking. But the best film of all time? Not in a hundred years.

Footnote: Following a period of hospitalisation for depression, Chantal Akerman committed suicide aged 65.


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