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Belgian director Chantal Akerman first woman to top Sight and Sound’s greatest all-time film poll

Belgian director Chantal Akerman tops prestigious best-ever film poll
19:27 04/12/2022

For the first time in 70 years, the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound poll has been topped by a film directed by a woman.

Iconic Belgian director Chantal Akerman’s 1975 Jeanne Dielman is a landmark feminist film. It replaces Hitchcock’s Vertigo in the prestigious poll that is staged every decade.

The film, also known under its full title, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, relates in detail three days in the life of a widowed housewife who turns to prostitution. It runs for almost three and a half hours.

Akerman’s most famous film drew on experimental techniques she developed in the US to explore sexual identity and the place of women in society.

It was immediately acclaimed as a masterpiece in the world of art-house cinema and has remained a cult classic that continues to provoke debate.

Born in Brussels in 1950 to parents who survived the Holocaust in Poland, the feminist and avant-garde director and video artist died in 2015, aged 65.

Writing for the British Film Institute, film studies professor Laura Mulvey said the selection of Akerman’s film represented “a sudden shake-up” in the history of the poll. It has been criticised in the past for a lack of diversity in the 1,600 experts polled and for the list of 100 best films chosen, reports the BBC.

The last winner, Vertigo, was placed second, while Citizen Kane by Orson Welles, which previously topped the poll for four decades, was third. Yasujirō Ozu's Tokyo Story was fourth, followed by Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love in fifth place.

Photo : Chantal Akerman in 1986 © Jean Ber – Chantal Akerman Foundation

Written by Sarah Crew