Best Picture #10: The Life of Emile Zola
Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases, there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is The Life of Emile Zola (1937).
When The Life of Emile Zola began with a series of quick scenes portraying the titular character’s rise to prominence, I admit I was a bit scared that it would simply be another run of the mill 1930s biopic that took little care in presenting more than the dramatized sparknotes version of a life. Thankfully, after a little bit of that, the film jumps past a few years and begins with a gripping tale about the duties one has to their country and their ideals as Emile Zola, who became famous for his writing which criticized the practices of the French government and exposed the underside of Paris before retiring to a complacent and comfortable life, is faced with an opportunity to once again fight for justice when Alfred Dreyfus is wrongfully accused and convicted of treason. Though the film fails to address that anti-semitism was at the core of the Dreyfus Affair, apart from a ledger listed Dreyfus as a Jew being briefly shown on screen, it does offer a poignant perspective on the issues it does concern itself with and is a compelling depiction of putting the desire for justice above personal comfort and national pride.
The Real Best Picture:
The Life of Emile Zola has its faults but it remains a worthy winner of the award with a message that is eternally relevant
Best Picture Winners academy awards best picture paul muni the life of emile zola william dieterle
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