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Film by Jewish director Chantal Akerman rated best of all time in major survey

1975 masterpiece ‘Jeanne Dielman’ takes top honors in highly respected Sight and Sound poll, supplanting Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ and Welles’s ‘Citizen Kane’ for first time

In this Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 file photo, Belgian director Chantal Akerman poses during the photo call for the movie La folie Almayer at the 68th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy. (AP/Jonathan Short)
In this Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 file photo, Belgian director Chantal Akerman poses during the photo call for the movie La folie Almayer at the 68th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy. (AP/Jonathan Short)

A feminist masterpiece by Belgian Jewish filmmaker Chantal Akerman was chosen as the best movie of all time in a massive and highly regarded poll of over 1,600 critics and others.

“Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” from 1975 displaced Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of tension “Vertigo” as the best movie ever in the poll by British magazine Sight and Sound, which has conducted the survey every decade since 1952 in cooperation with the British Film Institute.

The win for the film, which Akerman wrote and directed, marks the first time a movie by a female or Jewish director took the top spot in the survey. Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane” held the top spot for five decades until it was supplanted in 2012 by “Vertigo.”

The 2022 list of the 100 top films was based on the votes of 1,639 critics, academics, curators and others, nearly twice as many participated in the last iteration. Sight and Sound editor Mike Williams told The New York Times that the larger pool of voters likely helped expand the roster of top movies to include filmmakers overlooked in the past.

Previous surveys had put “Jeanne Dielman” closer to the bottom of the list.

Akerman, who died in 2015 at the age of 65, grew up in Brussels as the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Jewish themes and echoes of the Holocaust were present in many of her films, which also included the 2006 documentary “Down There,” in which she chronicled a month subletting an apartment in Tel Aviv.

“Jeanne Dielman,” a nearly three-and-a-half-hour study in austerity and minimalism, training an unblinking camera on a well-to-do Belgian housewife and prostitute as she does chores or meets clients for sex.

“In a film that, agonisingly, depicts women’s oppression, Akerman transforms cinema, itself so often an instrument of women’s oppression, into a liberating force,” wrote Laura Mulvey for BFI.

A second film by Akerman, “News From Home,” also made the list, tied for 52nd place. The 1976 movie features Akerman, in a decrepit New York, reading letters from her mother.

“Shoah” Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust epic from 1985, was ranked 27th on the survey.

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