Germinal [1993]

Emile Zola's novel of a rural mine town and a perilous worker's strike becomes a big-budget film of grit and torment in Germinal. The first half of the movie captures a world just this side of prison where whole families work in the Voreux mines with a daily dose of coal dust covering their skins and clogging their minds. Escapes are rare: a drink at the company bar or a carnival. An outsider provokes talk of a strike, something the failing owners want as well. When the workers revolt, it becomes a monster. While true to Zola's passion for the worker and social change, the movie cannot recover from the operatic drama that turns the action into mere motion, failing to draw in the audience (although this is an impressive-looking film, with Voreux passing as the real thing). Viewers will be moved by the workers' plight, the daily grime that they must rinse away, and their efforts to instill a normal life in this industrial hell--and will surely learn to appreciate their own jobs, whatever the inadequacies. --Doug Thomas

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