‘Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles’: A Guide

Here’s everything you need to know about the film, including why it’s important and where you can watch.

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By Stephanie Goodman

After stints at Variety and The Los Angeles Times, Stephanie Goodman has been editing movie coverage at The Times for 10 years.

Sight & Sound’s once-a-decade poll of critics has crowned “Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (1975), directed by Chantal Akerman, as the greatest film ever made. Here’s everything you need to know about the film and the poll.

What is the film about? It’s nominally the story of three days in the life of a Brussels widow (Delphine Seyrig) as she goes about routine, even monotonous household chores and has sex with precisely one client each afternoon, which is how she supports her teenage son. Read Vincent Canby’s review.

What is it really about? The quotidian lives that women lead become the stuff of drama and even suspense here. The Times co-chief critic Manohla Dargis described it as “a 201-minute leisurely dive into one woman’s inner and outer spaces.” Read our critic’s appreciation of the film.

Why is the film important? Probably the best known example of slow cinema, it was embraced by academics, critics and feminists when it was first released partly because of its radical politics, in Dargis’s words, and partly because of its technique, which has proved highly influential.

With “static, head-on compositions and unblinking blocks of real time,” the writer Dennis Lim once explained, the film’s “observational strategies, long takes and scrupulous framing” can be seen in the work of everyone from Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant to Michael Haneke and Jia Zhangke. Read an interview with Akerman.

Who was Chantal Akerman? The Belgian director, who died in 2015 at the age of 65, was considered a pioneer in feminist and experimental filmmaking. She was only 25 when she made “Jeanne Dielman,” her second narrative feature, and she would go on to make more than 40 all told.

For the director, a daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland, “the generational trauma of the Holocaust was a continuing theme, though below the surface,” the Times obituary said. “In recent decades she explored her own Jewish identity.” Read the obituary and an essay on the filmmaker.

What is the Sight & Sound poll? It’s a survey that the British magazine Sight & Sound conducts every 10 years and is greatly respected in the film world, though as you can imagine any subjective list of the best films ever is bound to be controversial. In 2012, the poll made news when “Vertigo,” by Alfred Hitchcock, took over No. 1 from “Citizen Kane” (Orson Welles), which had held the spot for 50 years.

For the 2022 survey, Sight & Sound invited more than 1,600 critics, academics, distributors, writers, curators and others from around the world to submit their top 10 films of all time.

What did Sight & Sound say about the poll results? “Streaming and digital communication have created opportunities to amplify voices and films that were less seen before,” Mike Williams, the editor of Sight & Sound, said in an interview with The Times. “I think our list is becoming more reflective of the wider world of filmmaking, enjoyment, criticism and conversation.” Read an article on the poll.

Where can you watch it? It’s streaming on HBO Max and the Criterion Channel. You can also rent it on Amazon, Vudu or Apple TV+.

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