Gervaise (1956)

RENE CLEMENT

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBFrance, 1956.  Agnes Delahaie Productions, Silver Films, Compagnie Industrielle et Commerciale Cinématographique. Screenplay by , , based on the novel L’Assommoir by Emile Zola.  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 1956.  

 is outstanding as Emile Zola’s heroine, determined to do well in life despite always being at the mercy of the heartless men in her life. She has two children with her common-law husband and is devastated when he leaves her to run off with a woman of ill repute. Shen then marries and builds herself up a tidy little laundry business, then watches it all decline after her husband’s workplace accident turns him into an itinerant alcoholic. Fantastic sequences (an amazing fight between Schell and as a scheming neighbor, a rich dinner sequence, the exciting, tragic conclusion) are combined with gritty commentary on morality and economics that make a perfect concoction, a film that gets your heart and mind racing in tandem. At its centre is its strength, however, as Schell performs with such intensely sympathetic vulnerability, her bright eyes steely and terrified at the same time.

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