Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Life of Emile Zola

William Dieterle and star Paul Muni once again team up for a biopic this time for writer/social crusader Emile Zola. For the first two thirds of the film it follows a similair structure that their previous collaboration, the Story of Louis Pasteur followed, that being various steps in the life of the man. In this case it basically follows his slow build in popularity through his writing which stems from various personal experiences throughout his life. The time is clearly imprinted onto the film as the politics of Zola are kept vague and are distilled down to the rather friendly concept of justice for all. This being the case though leaves the film itself vague since it does not delve into proper details on Zola's efforts though there is an occasional memorable scene crafted by Dieterle's direction, such as when Zola stumbles upon a large group of poor people in the fog. The film does not find its footing though until its third act which is centered solely around Dreyfus affair, where a Jewish military officer was framed for a crime he did not commit. Zola decides to champion his case and a fight for justice takes place. This is when the film comes to life as a real passion can be found through the writing, direction and particularly the performances of Muni and Joseph Schildkraut as Dreyfus. The film finds what it is about since its willing to not shy away from directly facing what its about, and it reaches towards a powerful conclusion. The film ends on a high note, but it also reminds one of how inarticulate and inert most of the earlier scenes had been. It's an uneven film, but luckily the filmmakers were nice enough to leave the bad on one side and the good on the other.

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