It’s the ‘greatest film of all time’ — now why can’t I own it?

Tom Davidson
3 min readDec 6, 2023

It has been twelve months since Sight & Sound shocked the world and announced a new champion in their once-every-ten-year seminal poll of the ‘greatest films of all time’.

No longer would Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo or Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane sit atop the cinematic pile, instead it was Jeanne Dielman or, to give it its full title: Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

Chantal Akerman’s 1975 masterpiece is a 201-minute look at the mundane life of a widowed housewife.

Jeanne Dielman centres around a widowed Belgian housewife

It did not spring from nowhere either, it had featured on earlier S&S lists, albeit placing in a ‘lowly’ 35th in 2012.

Ever since its release it has been part of film history canon.

Now why, in the UK, is it so hard to own the damn thing?

Some of the poorly informed are still a little snooty about us physical media collectors — but there is renaissance afoot, especially among boutique collectors and those who desire to physically own a copy of their favourite films.

(Streaming is great but between Netflix, Disney+, Mubi, BFI Player, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime and Sky, it’s an expensive pursuit if you want a wide access to films).

Recent physical media champions have included filmmakers Guillermo Del Toro and Christopher Nolan.

Nolan said at a recent Oppenheimer screening that it’s important to own the film on Blu-ray so that “no evil streaming service can come steal it from you.”

He later added in a separate interview with the Washington Post: “There is a danger, these days, that if things only exist in the streaming version they do get taken down, they come and go.”

These feelings were echoed by Del Toro who wrote on Twitter:

“Physical media is almost a Fahrenheit 451 (where people memorized entire books and thus became the book they loved) level of responsibility. If you own a great 4K HD, Blu-ray, DVD etc etc of a film or films you love… you are the custodian of those films for generations to come.”

You would think that, given Jeanne Dielman’s incredible critical success it would be possible for a UK film fan to ‘own’ it.

Well, strictly speaking it’s not. At least, it’s not as easy as it should be.

There is no Region B physical release of Jeanne Dielman. If I was to follow the laws of film distribution my only option would be to stream it on the BFI Player.

On Amazon the Criterion Region A blu-ray will set you back some £47, the DVD a snip at £23.65.

Indeed Criterion recently announced a lovely Chantal Akerman boxset with nine of her short feature films from 1968 to 1978 (including Jeanne Dielman), coming in January.

Not in the UK though.

Instead Region B, meaning the whole of Europe as well as the UK, has to deal with US imports in order to physically own the works of one of Europe’s greatest filmmakers.

Can we sort it out?

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Tom Davidson

31-year-old journalist living in south westLondon trying my hand at some film writing as and when