Sight & Sound Poll 2012: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films. 

Chantal Akerman’s extraordinary Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) would seem easy to describe, yet the experience of watching it is impossible to evoke. Set mostly within the confining walls of one apartment in Brussels over a three-day period, the film seems to consist of more or less nothing happening. Yet within its hypnotic, deliberately paced three hours and twenty minutes, quite a lot happens: nothing less than the gradual unraveling of one woman’s tightly constructed domestic world. Perhaps it’s best to let the director herself do the explaining. In this clip from a February 1976 interview on the French television series Les rendez-vous du dimanche (which you can watch in full on the Criterion DVD), Akerman helps viewers get better acquainted with the world of Jeanne Dielman.

Now get a sense of the fascinating rhythms of Akerman’s film in this clip. Here, Jeanne Dielman has to juggle child care and dinner preparation (nice technique with that veal breading!) while trying to make a little time for a coffee break. Akerman and cinematographer Babette Mangolte’s framing is never less than striking, and Patricia Canino’s editing is sharp and expressive; the elements work together to create a sense of claustrophobia and narrative urgency, even as we observe the performance of mundane tasks.

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