The 100 Greatest Films of All Time According to 1,639 Film Critics & 480 Directors: See the Results of the Once-a-Decade Sight and Sound Poll

Chan­tal Aker­man’s Jeanne Diel­man, 23 quai du Com­merce, 1080 Brux­elles is a three-and-a-half hour film in which noth­ing hap­pens. That, in any case, will be the descrip­tion offered by many who will view it for the first time in the com­ing months. Their curios­i­ty will have been piqued by its tri­umph in the just-released results of Sight and Sound mag­a­zine’s crit­ics poll to deter­mine the great­est films of all time. Con­duct­ed just once per decade since 1952, it has only seen two oth­er top-spot upsets in that time: when Cit­i­zen Kane dis­placed Bicy­cle Thieves in 1962, and when Ver­ti­go dis­placed Cit­i­zen Kane half a cen­tu­ry lat­er.

The top ten on this year’s Sight and Sound crit­ics poll is as fol­lows:

  1. Jeanne Diel­man 23, quai du Com­merce, 1080 Brux­elles (Chan­tal Aker­man, 1975)
  2. Ver­ti­go (Alfred Hitch­cock, 1958)
  3. Cit­i­zen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
  4. Tokyo Sto­ry (Yasu­jirō Ozu, 1953)
  5. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000)
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stan­ley Kubrick, 1968)
  7. Beau tra­vail (Claire Denis, 1998)
  8. Mul­hol­land Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
  9. Man with a Movie Cam­era (Dzi­ga Ver­tov, 1929)
  10. Sin­gin’ in the Rain (Gene Kel­ly and Stan­ley Donen, 1952)

Since 1992, the mag­a­zine has also run a sep­a­rate poll that col­lects the votes of not crit­ics but film direc­tors, which this year placed 2001 at num­ber one. Its top ten also includes such selec­tions as Fed­eri­co Fellini’s , Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mir­ror, and Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up.

The direc­tors ranked Jeanne Diel­man at a respectable num­ber four, tied with Tokyo Sto­ry. “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,” writes film the­o­rist Lau­ra Mul­vey on Sight and Sound’s page for the film.

“On the side of form, it rig­or­ous­ly records her domes­tic rou­tine in extend­ed time and from a fixed cam­era posi­tion.” As you may already imag­ine, these ele­ments — as well as the fact that the title char­ac­ter is played by no less grand a movie star than Del­phine Seyrig — make for a sin­gu­lar view­ing expe­ri­ence.

That title isn’t with­out a cer­tain irony, giv­en how much of the film Aker­man devotes to straight­for­ward depic­tions of a mid­dle-aged woman per­form­ing house­hold chores — tak­ing us far indeed from the domain of, say, Jer­ry Bruck­heimer. “Shot in sta­t­ic, long takes, the film’s pace and tone may first seem slow or dull,” writes Adam Cook in the IndieWire video essay “Chan­tal Aker­man’s Jeanne Diel­man Is a True Action Movie,” but “in observ­ing these house­hold tasks free of periph­ery, they take on a dra­matur­gy of their own.” Only with time and rep­e­ti­tion do “the nuances in Del­phine Seyrig’s expres­sions con­vey vast­ly dif­fer­ent con­no­ta­tions” and “the small­est details take on nar­ra­tive pow­er and sig­nif­i­cance.”

“Her life is orga­nized to allow no gaps in the day,” Aker­man told a tele­vi­sion chat-show audi­ence in 1975, when Jeanne Diel­man had just come out. But “her very struc­tured uni­verse starts to unrav­el,” and “her sub­con­scious express­es itself through a series of lit­tle slip-ups.” In a 2009 inter­view for the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion, Aker­man drew con­nec­tions between her char­ac­ter’s reg­i­men­ta­tion and the strict Jew­ish rit­u­als she her­self observed in child­hood: “Know­ing every moment of every day, what she must do the next moment, brings a sort of peace.” When the rou­tine is dis­rupt­ed, “a sus­pense builds, because I think that deep down, we know that some­thing’s going to hap­pen.” On this emo­tion­al lev­el, Jeanne Diel­man is more con­ven­tion­al than it may seem. And to those who can immerse them­selves in it, it feels like the only film in which any­thing does hap­pen.

See the Sight and Sound poll results here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

100 Over­looked Films Direct­ed by Women: See Selec­tions from Sight & Sound Magazine’s New List

103 Essen­tial Films By Female Film­mak­ers: Clue­less, Lost in Trans­la­tion, Ishtar and More

The Ten Great­est Films of All Time Accord­ing to 358 Film­mak­ers

The Ten Great­est Films of All Time Accord­ing to 846 Film Crit­ics

The Best 100 Movies of the 21st Cen­tu­ry (So Far) Named by 177 Film Crit­ics

The Top 100 Amer­i­can Films of All Time, Accord­ing to 62 Inter­na­tion­al Film Crit­ics

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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