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directed by René Clément
France/Italy 1956


One of France’s most respected directors of the postwar era, René Clément created such intense psychological dramas as Forbidden Games and Purple Noon. The equally gripping Gervaise, his vivid adaptation of Émile Zola’s 1877 masterpiece L’assommoir, is an uncompromising depiction of a laundress’s struggles with an alcoholic husband while running her own business. Gervaise was nominated for an Oscar and earned Maria Schell best actress honors at the Venice Film Festival.


Theatrical Release: August 3rd, 1956 (West Germany)

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DVD Review: The Criterion Collection (Essential Art House) - Region 1 - NTSC

DVD Box Cover

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The Criterion Collection

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 1:57:20

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 7.92 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio French (Dolby Digital 1.0)
Subtitles English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• none

DVD Release Date: September 15th, 2009
Keep Case

Chapters 21



Earlier this week when Criterion announced that many of their titles leased from Studio Canal were going out of print, it would have been easy to overlook a lesser known gem like René Clément's "Gervaise" amongst some of the higher profile titles on the list. An adaptation of one of Émile Zola’s more obscure entries in his 20 volume Les Rougon-Macquart series, the film tells the story of a young mother named Gervaise (exquisitely played by Maria Schell), whose life is divided between her alcoholic husband and her troubled lover. Yet things do not go well for her. Every time it seems that her life is back on track, the forces of fate conspire against her. Shot in gorgeous black and white, Clément brilliantly brings Zola's drama to life, creating a world set in 19th century France filled with comedy, tragedy, and the all of the highs and lows of life. I must admit to really enjoying the film. My previous experiences with Clément have been limited to some of his better known films, so it was a real treat to come across one of his less discussed work. Since this is unfortunately going to go out of print by the end of March, I would strongly recommend picking it up.

The image on this disc is nothing less than stunning. I would have expected the print to look a little worse the the films in the mainline, but this looks just about as good as anything that Criterion has ever put out on standard definition. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the film exhibits a very high level of contrast between the blacks and whites with numerous shades of gray in between. Throughout the print I saw no instances of damage, but unless my eyes were deceiving me, I did come across two exceptionally brief instances of artifacting. These were however, exceedingly minor and you would have to be looking very hard to find them. Aside from this niggling detail, the print is very sharp and quite welcome.

The Dolby Digital 1.0 probably ranks among the best instances of the mono track that I've come across. While it would almost certainly have sounded better in stereo, the dialogue and music here are always clear and seemed to be free of all unwanted background noise (hisses, pops, etc.). The subtitles are clear (not being a French speaker, I can't comment on their accuracy) and did not obstruct the image.

Like the other releases in the Essential Art House line, Gervaise does not come with any extras aside from some very brief liner notes. Yet, for just under $11.00, I would say that this near masterpiece belongs on any cinephile's shelf. Definitely recommended.

 - Brian Montgomery


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Region 1 - NTSC



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