The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Plot: This film is another biopic, this time about Emile Zola, a man I’d heard of but knew nothing about. The film tracks his time from penniless “man of letters” hanging out with Paul Cézanne, through his rise as a prolific Parisian author, to his famous “J’accuse” letter published in a newspaper and subsequent trial for defamation in what is called The Dreyfus Affair (which is about as cuckoo bananas as it gets, in terms of government conspiracy and coverups). The film ends with Dreyfus’ exoneration and Zola’s death.

Best Moment: Zola’s whole life, according to the film, was about fighting injustice. Early in the film, his employer asks why he writes such “muckraking” content, when there is so much that is pleasant in the world. Calling truth “muckraking” popped my relevance antennae, and several other moments in the film had an element of timelessness to them. Which should give me hope…the more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.

Worst Moment: The pacing of the film was tough for me. I usually love films based on people’s lives, but I found myself dozing off, even though the overall content was interesting.

Fun Facts: Saturday night, this tweet landed in my timeline:

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So I looked at the history of the “J’accuse” letter, and felt a bit more prepared for the film. Serendipitous that David Frum would pull out a Zola reference in response to what’s going on with the Kavanaugh hearing.

Also, watching this film Sunday night was a nice little cap to a week in which both me and Stueve were accosted and verbally harassed for teaching journalism, and for defending journalists:

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I want to read Zola’s work now, just because of how he was portrayed in the film–as a pursuer of truth and justice. Oh, and my favorite line?

Each serves his country in his own way:
One with a sword, the other with a pen.

The release date of this film was not lost on me: the world was three years into the Third Reich, and the entire Dreyfus Affair, at its core, is blatant anti-semitism. My hope is that American audiences were incensed at what they saw. Though knowing immigration policies for Jews during Hitler’s reign, I’m not confident the film had much effect.

Recommendation: You can probably skip this one, and instead, read up on The Dreyfus Affair and Zola’s role in exonerating him.

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