For my current writing project, I am watching, ranking, and reviewing every film to win The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar for Best Picture. Below, is my review of the 1938 winner, "The Life of Emile Zola."
Plot: “The biopic of the famous French muckraking writer and his involvement in fighting the injustice of the Dreyfuss Affair.” -IMDB
Director: William Dieterle, Writers: Norman Reilly Raine, Heinz Herald, Starring: Paul Muni, Gale Sondergaard, Joseph Schlidkraut
Review: Of all the movies I have watched so far during this writing project, “The Life of Emile Zola” is my favorite. Perhaps it connected with me, because of the position my country finds itself currently occupying. Perhaps I found refuge in a man who also knew that his country could do better. Perhaps I love the idea of not settling and pushing society forward to be better. Perhaps it was all of these things and more.
In many ways, the life of Emile Zola reminds me of the writer, James Baldwin. In fact, my immediate thought after watching this movie was to wonder if Mr. Baldwin has seen this film. Both men were writers of a revolution who wrote with the intention of making their country better. Where they differed is that as Zola became more well-known and respected, his life gave way to comfort and the accumulation of things. So much so that a dear friend accuses him of selling out. It isn’t until he is presented with the opportunity to fight for someone wrongly accused of a crime that he did not commit that the idea of his comfortable life confronts him.
When Zola takes on the trial of a member of the French military who has been accused of treason, we finally get to see a beast who slumbers no more. The trial scenes are the best in the entire film. It is our first opportunity to see what Zola has spent years writing in action as he questions the state and the citizens' relationship to it.
In the end, this is a film about truth and being dedicated to higher ideals. This film came out during the rise of Adolph Hitler and before World War II. At such a time, it must have been a thing to behold. Given the tumultuous and uncertain times, we find ourselves, I think more people should dust this film off and give it a try.
Be good to each other,
Best Picture Ranking (So Far)
The Life of Emile Zola
Mutiny on the Bounty
It Happened One Night
The Great Ziegfeld
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Broadway Melody
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