Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

On 35mm film. Part of our Women Making Movies celebration.

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

On December 1st, the British Film Institute and Sight and Sound magazine announced the results of their decennial “Greatest Films of All Time” poll—a major event for movieheads. At the top: “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.” It was a long shot—if Ladbrokes had Sight and Sound odds, it might have predicted “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Tokyo Story” or last decade’s champion, “Vertigo,” in the top spot. The late Chantal Akerman, the Belgian director of “Jeanne Dielman,” is the first female filmmaker ever to crack Sight and Sound’s top ten; Akerman was just twenty-four years old when the movie premièred at Cannes, in 1975. It is a rigorous, uncompromising film, nearly three and a half hours long, depicting three days in the life of the widowed single mother named in the title (played by Delphine Seyrig), and focussed relentlessly on the domestic tasks that occupy her waking hours: the cooking and cleaning, the wiping and straightening and scrubbing. Jeanne is also a sex worker, hosting a client in the late afternoon each day, although these assignations are—unlike the other tedious labor that she performs—mostly unseen. The Sight and Sound tabulations are a striking turn of events, representing a consensus that one of the pinnacle films ever produced in an overwhelmingly male-dominated art form was made by a young woman, with a crew mostly made up of women, starring a middle-aged woman, about women’s work.

The news of the triumph of “Jeanne Dielman” was, in short, pleasurable. “Jeanne Dielman” itself is not pleasurable, or at least not in any obvious or easy sense. The film’s strength derives in significant part from its austerity, patience, and extreme discipline. Each scene consists of a single, fixed shot, placed a bit lower than the norm. (Akerman was five feet tall, and set up her shots accordingly.) The camera does not move; there are no reaction shots and no closeups. Seyrig is onscreen nearly every minute, usually performing some mundane task in real time: washing dishes, making a bed, peeling potatoes. (Just as I never chop garlic without thinking of Paul Sorvino in “Goodfellas,” I never peel a potato without thinking of Seyrig in “Jeanne Dielman.”) More than four minutes are filled by Jeanne taking a bath and then scrubbing out the tub. Well over five minutes pass as Jeanne and her teen-age son, Sylvain, silently eat a dinner of soup, pot roast, and potatoes. Occasionally, Jeanne leaves her apartment to pay a bill or do a bit of shopping. She reads a letter from an aunt; she chitchats with this neighbor and that one. There is no score, just a bit of radio in the evenings.

I suspect that the Sight and Sound voters who truly love “Jeanne Dielman,” as opposed to merely admiring it (I am in the latter camp, for whatever it’s worth), are those who can enter a meditative state when watching it, who can dissolve their ego into the folds of Jeanne’s shirtdress during the many minutes that we spend watching her from the back as she washes dishes. Meditation is often accomplished through a focus on one’s breathing, and so it’s apt that an especially suspenseful and doom-laden moment in “Jeanne Dielman” comes on the ominousthird day, in a shot of Jeanne simply sitting in a chair in her living room—not knitting or folding or smoothing, just sitting, and Akerman and Seyrig draw us toward the variations and tiny irregularities of Jeanne’s breathing. With each shallow inhalation, one expects something momentous to happen. This is part of the great project of “Jeanne Dielman,” and why so many cinéastes treasure it so fiercely. It sought to redefine everything that makes a film a film: how it establishes tension and tempo, how it defines or disregards plot, whom it chooses as a protagonist. One can watch “Jeanne Dielman” and wait for something to happen, but it already is.

— Jessica Winter, The New Yorker

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Sun March 10, 2:00 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium

Belgium, France; 1976; in French; 202 min, 35mm

Director: Chantal Akerman, Writer: Chantal Akerman, Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte, Henri Storck, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Yves Bical

remind me save to calendar recommend


10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Sun Mar 10, 2024

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Mon Apr 1, 2024

Hot Shots! Part Deux

At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...