Such a sudden shake-up at the top of Sight and Sound’s ten-yearly poll! Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) heads the 2022 list. No other film made by a woman has ever even reached the top ten. In the first instance, this is unsurprising: women film directors have always, obviously, been few and far between; equally obviously, the contributing critics have been predominantly male. It was when Sight and Sound expanded the critics’ pool in 2012 that Jeanne Dielman first entered the list, at number 35; its rise to the top now is a triumph for women’s cinema.
But perhaps the ultimate surprise goes even further: the film that collected the most votes in 2022 is made with a cinematic style and strategy closer to avantgarde than mainstream traditions and, furthermore, at just under three and a half hours, demands dedicated viewing. Although confrontational, idiosyncratic and extraordinary films have consistently appeared lower in the lists, the experimental tradition, to which Jeanne Dielman belongs, is – apart perhaps from the recent appearance of Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) – absent. While it has brought this tradition to the top of the list, Jeanne Dielman is inescapably a woman’s film, consciously feminist in its turn to the avant garde. On the side of content, the film charts the breakdown of a bourgeois Belgian housewife, mother and part-time prostitute over the course of three days; on the side of form, it rigorously records her domestic routine in extended time and from a fixed camera position. In a film that, agonisingly, depicts women’s oppression, Akerman transforms cinema, itself so often an instrument of women’s oppression, into a liberating force.
Read the full article by Laura Mulvey