The new take on Emile Zola’s classic for France Télévisions is quite astonishing, both uplifting and spectacularly beautiful.
The symbol is strong. It is in the old Wallers-Arenberg mine (in the North), where much of the series was filmed, that Germinal was shown for the first time, as part of the Séries Mania festival. Even before its Lille screening, even before it was put online on Salto (yesterday), it is for a highly concerned audience that the director David Hourrègue and the screenwriter Julien Lilti have reserved the premiere of their 2021 version of the work of ‘Emile Zola. A sign of changing times, 30 years after Claude Berri’s film, which itself arrived 30 years after Yves Allégret’s film, it is now in mini-series that we find La Maheude, Lantier, Hennebeau and all others. Six episodes that allow you to take your time to dissect the 1885 novel, to capture all its subtleties, and above all to transcribe as faithfully as possible the life of the black guys and their growing anger …
Everyone knows the story. At the “Le Voreux” mine, in the north of France, a new firedamp causes the death of Fleurance. Just arrived on site, Étienne Lantier, an unemployed worker, was hired in Toussaint Maheu’s team. He will discover the hard life of a miner, 600 meters underground or in the settlements, faced with pressure from the bosses, who always ask for more for less. Influenced by the beginnings of communism and trade unionism, Etienne will unite his comrades, to stand up and no longer accept exploitation …
The shock is first of all visual. The sets are impressive. The image is beautiful. Spectacular. The partnership with the Italian Rai has enabled France Télévisions to offer significant resources so that production meets its ambitions. This Germinal–there has absolutely nothing to envy to previous versions. Paradoxically, it has an obvious cinematographic quality. Yes, we are in a serial variation of Emile Zola’s book, but this 2021 adaptation looks just as good on the big screen (as was the case in Séries Mania in recent days).
From the first seconds, we are propelled into the suffocating atmosphere of the miners, this life of sacrificial labor that sounds so unreal to our eyes of the 21st century. The underground scenes, carrying coal all day, are as breathtaking as they are distressing. And when you go out into the open, it is the better to bathe in the ecosystem of the Corons, recreated with remarkable thoroughness. A dizzyingly beautiful historical work, put into images by David Hourrègue (Skam France) with almost stinging power.
But beyond decorum, Germinal shines with its modern writing. All the dialogues have been rewritten and sound more accurate. The anger of the workers increases and the intensity of the drama becomes more electric, episode after episode. With time to transpose the characters of Zola (especially the female characters) to the screen, each of the plots finds its place in this choral story, carried by a cast in tune. Realistic, epic, dramatic, this Germinal was necessary.
Germinal, already available on Salto. Soon to be broadcast on France 2.