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Female-Helmed Classic Tops ‘Best Film of All Time’ List

Citizen Kane has been dethroned. Vertigo has been put in its place. The top film is, for the first time in history, directed by a woman.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), is not just the first film by a female director to top this list, but the first film helmed by a woman to ever make it into the top ten. The British film magazine Sight & Sound has released their greatest movies of all-time list for 70 years. For the first 50 of those, Orson Welles’ most famous classic seemed undefeatable in the number one spot. Then, in 2012, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo bumped it to number two where it has stayed for ten years.

The new number one, directed in 1975 by Chantal Akerman, a filmmaker from Belgium, is a drama about a lonely widow played by Delphine Seyrig who is in search of her identity as the mother of a teenage son and who works in prostitution to make ends meet. The story only covers three days in Jeanne’s life, her daily routine of caring for her child while receiving men begins to unravel. Orgasm and murder intersect in a quest for liberation. Akerman made one film before this one, Je, Tu, Il, Elle that qualified her to apply for a grant from the Belgian government to make her second. The subject matter was a sign of the times, the growing feminism of the 1970s, as she said in a later interview that she was able to make a female-centric film because “at that point everybody was talking about women” and that it was “the right time”.

The film was hailed as “first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema” by a French critic when it premiered in the Directors Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival. Another critic described it like this: “Akerman’s brilliance is her ability to keep the viewer fascinated by everything normally left out of movies”. It became a cult classic.

Akerman passed away at just 65 in 2015. She only made four films during her short life with Jeanne Dielman being the second when she was 25, and the last made in 2015 (No Home Movie). Gus Van Sant cited her film as inspiration for his own films Gerry and Elephant.

In the US, Jeanne Dielman was not released until 1983 which the legendary Pauline Kael blamed on “typical American puritanism”.

Akerman’s now number one film is not the only shake-up in the British magazine’s list: Barry JenkinsMoonlight (2016), Bong Joon-Ho‘s Parasite (2019), Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) are new additions. Two animated movies also made the list for the first time, My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, both are directed by Hayao Miyazaki. And seven films are made by Black directors, including Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.

For lovers of big classics, there’s no need to worry: aside from Citizen Kane and Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey (at number six, Singin’ in the Rain (in 10), The Godfather (in 12) and Apocalypse Now and Seven Samurai (in 19th and 20th place) are all still represented.