Emile Zola’s L’ASSOMMOIR gets the ‘Cinema of Quality’ treatment from René Clément and a respectful script by Bost & Aurenche. As the hardworking, but luckless laundress with capitalistic dreams of running her own shop, Maria Schell is very blond, but seems unable to express more than one emotion at a time. The three men in her life are superbly characterized (by Zola & the actors), alternately helping & hurting Gervaise’s plans as sex, alcohol, luck & money take their toll. The meticulous production is impressive (there’s a gasp-worthy roofing accident that seems to slow time) and occasionally Clément catches the essence of Parisian mid-19th Century working-class cultural/political boundaries (especially in an abrupt trial sequence & at a birthday celebration). But all too often, Zola’s fatalistic, plot-heavy events are doled out in digestible bits. We’re never asked to discover things on our own since Clément parses everything out like a parent cutting up meat for a child. It needn’t be so. See Jean Renoir’s thrilling, if untidy version of NANA/’26, where Zola continues this very tale with Gervaise’s daughter. But Renoir, like Zola, is struggling to make art, Clément is merely trading in art. There’s a difference.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: First try Jean Renoir's LA BETE HUMAINE/'38 which is a 'straighter' adaptation than his daring NANA.