Every decade, the British Film Institute and Sight and Sound magazine ask hundreds of leading critics and other industry bods to name their top 10 films. Usually it’s predictable fare: Citizen Kane came first every time between 1962 and 2002. But this year, says Jessica Winter in The New Yorker, the winner was a movie most cinemagoers will never have heard of: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Made in 1975 by Belgian director Chantal Akerman, it’s an “uncompromising” affair: three-and-a-half hours in the life of a single mother (and part-time sex worker) called Jeanne. There are no close-ups and no music. Each scene consists of a single, fixed shot of actress Delphine Seyrig carrying out various mundane tasks: washing dishes, making a bed, peeling potatoes.
And – yes – it’s brilliant. Akerman “rewards the viewer’s attention by recalibrating it”. As the minutes and hours pass, you become “attuned to the cracks that begin to appear in the latticework of Jeanne’s regimented day: a missed button, a stray lock of hair”. These start to take on more and more meaning: an “invisible gas of apprehension, then dread, pervades”. And without giving away any spoilers, that dread “comes to fruition”. Yes, Jeanne Dielman can be “intensely, maddeningly” boring. But the boredom is the point. It “permits you to think, even insists that you think”. You watch it waiting for something to happen, only to realise that “it already is”.
Experience the boredom for yourself with a free BFI trial here.