Germinal | Chicago Reader

Germinal

It seems grimly ironic that “the most expensive French film ever made” is about starving striking coal miners, though it's not exactly surprising that this 158-minute, yawn-inducing Emile Zola adaptation from Claude Berri (1993) should seem so cosmically unnecessary. The film has neither the punch of a mining melodrama like Cecil B. De Mille's early Dynamite nor the edification of a serious literary adaptation—though there's plenty of ham acting from such coal-smeared French luminaries as Gerard Depardieu, Miou-Miou, Renaud, Jean Carmet, Judith Henry, and Bernard Fresson and one striking secondary performance by the underrated Laurent Terzieff. Berri, whose work in Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring has made him the James Ivory of the French peasantry—or is it the French Stanley Kramer?—brings all the pretension and impersonality required of such an enterprise, though little of the meaning or urgency that might make it worth sitting through. (For the record, Zola's a lot better than this movie would suggest.)

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