Gervaise (1956): France’s Oscar Nominee–Rene Clement Version of Zola’s Novel, Starring Maria Schell

1956: Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar: Year 1

In the first year of the foreign-language Oscar category, the five nominees were: Fellini’s “La Strada” from Italy, which won, “The Captain of Kopenick,” from the Federal Republic of Germany, “Gervaise” from France, “Harp of Burma” from Japan, and “Qivitoq,” from Denmark.


Rene Clement’s adaptation of Emile Zola’s 1877 popular but grim social-realist novel stars Austrian Maria Schell (sister of Maxmillian Schell).


She plays Gervaise Macquart Coupeau, a patient and courageous laundrywoman, who marries an alcoholic co-worker after her lover deserts her.  Crushing under the burden of having to support two children, she becomes an alcoholic herself.

Grade: B (*** 1/2* out of *****)

Gervaise 1956 film poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster


Maria Schell received the Best Actress kudo at the 1956 Venice film Festival, a prize that followed her recognition at the 1954 Cannes film festival for Helmut Kautner’s “The Last Bridge.”


The film’s accomplished production values and box-office popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere might have accounted for its inclusion in the category, plus the reputation of Clement (born 1913), as the director of “Forbidden Games” (1952), which was singled out by the Academy as Best Foreign Language Picture before a distinct category was established in that field.  A commercial director, Clement is also responsible for several well-executed thrillers, “Purple Noon” and “Rider on the Rain,” among others.


After this and other European films (Visconti’s “White Nights”), Maria Schell was imported to Hollywood, where she starred in “The Brothers Karamazov” (1958), then opposite Gary Cooper in the Western “The Hanging Tree,” and perhaps most memorably of all in “The Mark” (1961) with Stuart Whitman.



Directed by René Clément
Produced by Agnès Delahaie
Screenplay by Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, based on L’Assommoir by Émile Zola
Music by Georges Auric
Cinematography Robert Juillard
Edited by Henri Rust
Distributed by Les Films Corona

Release date: August 3 1956 (West Germany); September 5, 1956 (France)

Running time: 120 minutes