The Life of Emile Zola is a 1937 biographical drama film directed by William Dieterle and stars Paul Muni, Gloria Holden, and Joseph Sildkraut. It is the second biographical film to win Best Picture.
The film chronicles Zola's rise as a famous writer and his later involvement in the Alfred Dreyfus political scandal.
Just when I thought the Best Picture winners were picking up steam, Emile Zola dashed those hopes. The question I had to ask was who cares? I could've spent two hours reading a book about the life of Emile Zola and probably feel more informed than I would watching the film. This is the problem that I believe biographical films can have a difficult time with; trying to be an acceptable substitute in place of reading a book or online article. If the film presents a biography that is compelling and engaging, it has succeeded. But if instead it attempts to be "tell don't show", that is when it has failed. Zola tells more than it shows, and the result is bland and uninteresting. The characters feel shallow, and the story is dramatically dull.
- The courtroom scene. This is the only time that Emile Zola flourishes. Male tempers flare and emotions are running high as the court tries to decide if Zola is guilty of a crime or not. If only the majority of the film could've taken place in a courtroom.
- The first third of the film. The sequence of events in the first third of the film are flat and completely forgettable. The first 10 or so minutes looks at a small part of Zola's vibrant youth, but the only thing noteworthy is overhearing that Zola acquires a job. When we flash forward to his adulthood, there is a notable stretch where Zola doesn't even appear, as we are introduced to Alfred Dreyfus and watch as he is convicted of treason. Other than that, any other conversations we watch are uninteresting, and the film treads on never-ending boredom.
I will include The Life of Emile Zola into the list of Forgettable Best Picture Winners. It seemingly tries to be something more than it actually is. What it actually is is a dull and disengaging biographical dud that does not provide a compelling argument as to why we should care about its titular character. Reading a short book on Emile Zola would be a much more valuable use of your time.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: