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1863. Etienne Lantier, who has been fired from a railway company for being involved in union activities, lands a miner's job in the North of France. He finds bed and lodging at the Maheus', all of whom being miners themselves and whose daughter Catherine proves susceptible to his charm.The work is hard, ill-paid and dangerous. When the miners hear their wages are going to be cut down they revolt, led by Lantier. The company decides to bring workers in replacement and the authorities repress the rebels ruthlessly. The strike ends in death and suffering but hope for a better future still prevails, in spite of everything...Written by
Zola's novels are deceptive :it's hard to make a truly bad movie from them while being harder still to really succeed.
Zola's book in the thirteenth volume in the Rougon-Macquart saga and is generally considered his masterwork,it is my favorite too.
Three versions were made in the writer's native land:a silent work (1913) I haven't seen ,this Allégret movie ,then a third one in 1993.
The biggest flaw is the choice of pretty boy Jean Sorel as the lead whereas it would have taken a powerful thespian such as Laurent Terzieff to do the character justice;he's definitely not a born leader of men and his harangues fall flat (if it convinces the miners ,they are naive).
Too much time is given over to love affairs :Catherine and Etienne,and his rival (played by Claude Brasseur);the love affair in the upper class between Hennebeau's wife and his nephew (renamed Paul) was a minor subplot which was not necessary in a 110 min film;this handsome engineer is engaged to Hennebeau's daughter Cécile ;It should be pointed out that in the book,Cecile was the Grégoire's daughter ;The Grégoire family were shareholders and they way they gave their handout to the starving and shivering Maheu children is a memorable chapter.
Hence ,not enough time for the plight of the miners: Alzire Maheu 's fate ,who dies of starvation ,is ruled out.We do not feel the cold,the filth,the sharp contrast with the affluent persons ' luxury :"we 're compelled to lower the wages on account of the economy" says a straight-faced and all the more hateful Hennebeau (Bernard Blier).We hardly feel the rebel stand against an unjust establishment ,the hatred for the Belgian strikebreakers .
The most successful moment is perhaps the pillage of Maigrat's store by the women who were given food by the obnoxious merchant in exchange for sexual relations.
As I wrote above ,it's hard to transfer successfully a Zola novel(* );Yves Allégret's work is not a bad movie,but it reduces one of the best works of the French literature to a reader's digest.
*Jean Renoir did succeed ,however,in "La Bete Humaine" .
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