(French 1956 b 117')
Based on a novel by Emile Zola, Gervaise has children by a philanderer, marries a roofer who becomes an alcoholic, and loves a blacksmith who goes to prison.
Gervaise Macquart (Maria Schell) is waiting for her man to come home. Lantier (Armand Mestral) says goodbye to his lady friends and goes home. Gervaise asks him where he spent the night. She says he was with a whore and asks who he was with. Two children cry, and he threatens to leave if they are not quiet. Gervaise says she will kill her. He asks what he did to her. She gets dressed, and he asks if she has money for lunch. She says she is going to the washhouse. She asks him to buy some food and wine, and he leaves. She feels all right again.
Gervaise takes her clothes to a laundress and says she has been in Paris for two months. Gervaise says she is not married. She goes to get a bucket of hot water by putting in a coin. She says her man does not do anything in Paris. Gervaise asks Mme. Boche (Mathilde Casadesus) about Adele and Virginie at her house. The woman says he might pinch them on the stairs. Two boys come in, and a man announces they are looking for their mothers. They go to Gervaise, give her a key, and say their father packed things and left. Gervaise asks Mme. Boche the name of the woman he left with, and she points out her sister Virginie (Suzy Delair). Gervaise tries to throw water on her. Virginie asks why, and Gervaise says her husband was with her sister; but Mme. Boche says Gervaise is not married. They get into a fight, pouring water on each other and then throwing buckets. They wrestle, and Gervaise’s head is dunked in water. Mme. Boche says they should stop them, but no one does. They try to strangle each other. Gervaise is hit by a board and cries. She hits back and spanks Virginie on her bare ass. Gervaise pays two cents and leaves with her two children.
Gervaise says she got married to Henri Coupeau (François Perier), borrowing a dress from his sister. She says they work with gold. Mme. Lorilleaux (Jany Holt) says Gervaise does not look healthy. Henri says they do not have to come to the wedding. They check the soles of their shoes for gold before they leave.
Henri comes to the home of Gervaise with flowers and kisses her. She signs the wedding book, and he makes an X. Church bells ring as they leave. It starts to rain, and they run for cover. Gervaise limps, and Henri asks the blacksmith Goujet (Jacques Harden) to come. In a tavern they talk about where to go. They walk down the street and go in an art museum. Gervaise and Goujet like the painting of Liberty.
In the evening Henri helps Gervaise take off her shoes. She takes off her stockings and says that is enough. He gives her seven cents for housekeeping. He calls her wife and kisses her.
Gervaise says time passed, and she had Nana. He worked on roofs, and she worked at the laundry. She gets in bed with Henri, and they talk. They are trying to rent the shop. She tells Henri he has to sign. He trips and falls from the roof. An ambulance comes, and Gervaise takes him home instead of to a free hospital.
After paying the doctors she says they have nothing left. At home Henri says she should have put him in the hospital, and she would have the shop. Goujet offers to loan them 500 francs so they can rent the shop.
Henri uses a cane and sees Gervaise in the shop. They rent the shop. Two weeks later Gervaise sees Virginie again. She introduces her husband, M. Fish, to her and says he is a policeman. Gervaise says she is a laundress and her own boss. Virginie sees her wedding ring. Virginie invites her into her home, where Gervaise used to live. Virginie and Gervaise are glad to see each other and decide not to talk about the fight. Virginie says her sister is nasty and that Gervaise had good cause. Virginie says they are not together anymore and asks if Gervaise would take him back. She says it is over and leaves.
Virginie sees Goujet in her shop and assumes Goujet is her husband. Gervaise says he took her son as an apprentice. Gervaise gives her coffee. Gervaise says she is paying Goujet back. Virginie sees Mme. Boche, who invites her for coffee.
Henri comes into the laundry. He wants to kiss Gervaise and is drunk. He also tries to kiss a pretty employee and talks fresh to her. He puts his hand on her breast, and Gervaise tells him to go to bed. Virginie brings in her laundry. Henri tells Gervaise to invite her to her name-day party. Gervaise pushes Henri out, and he lies on the bed. Coins fall out of his pocket, and she says he had no money in the morning. She looks in a drawer and says that money was for Goujet. She blames him for drinking away his money while she works. She says she will cancel the party. Henri tells her to talk to him and work it out.
On the street Gervaise talks with Goujet, who tells her not to hold it against Henri. Goujet says she only thinks of money. She says he wanted to kiss her, and he left her money for dinner.
Virginie comes in the laundry and wishes Gervaise a happy name-day. They hand a goose to Gervaise. Virginie says she saw Lantier. Henri overhears and says he will fight him.
Gervaise is cooking the goose for the party. The Lorilleaux and the Boche families come to the party. Virginie, Gervaise, and Goujet go out to look for Henri. They find him in a tavern, and he says that is his home. He says he saw her Lantier and goes with them to the party. He counts thirteen people and tries to leave. He says he will get a fourteenth person. While they start eating, Henri finds a man who is hungry and brings him in. Gervaise serves the goose, and they cheer. M. Fish carves the meat. Virginie comes back in and whispers to Gervaise that he is still there reading a newspaper. Gervaise and Goujet gaze at each other. Old Bru says his two sons died in the Crimean War, and he can no longer get work. They avoid politics and drink to the boss. They pass salad around, and Henri grabs the wine.
Lantier walks on the street while the party sings. Henri asks Gervaise to sing “Let Me Sleep,” and she does. She sees Lantier looking in the window and stops. Henri sees Lantier and goes out to him. He shakes his hand and brings him in to the party. Henri asks Gervaise to make coffee. Goujet asks Gervaise if that is Lantier, and he starts to leave. She stops him and says she was afraid. She kisses Goujet. Later Henri asks Lantier to look at the kids, and he thanks them for fulfilling his wish. Gervaise says little Claude is living with an aunt. Henri and Gervaise prepare a mattress for Lantier to stay the night.
A boy sees Lantier sleeping in the shop. The boy goes to work and tells his father Goujet he has too many fathers. Workers are on strike for a five-cent raise.
In court they say workers were arrested. A witness testifies that Goujet has behaved well, but the judge says he threatened anybody who tries to return to work. Brétonniere says so, but another man says he is a liar. The judge sentences Goujet to one year in prison.
Lantier has dinner with the Coupeau family, and Henri shows him his room. A coach arrives, and Lantier carries a trunk in. Soldiers pass in the street, and Goujet is released for the Emperor’s celebration. He finds Lantier there, and he is embraced by the boy and Gervaise. Henri asks Goujet to stay, but he goes. Gervaise complains that Lantier is not dressed. Henri gives him money for clothes.
Lantier drinks with Gervaise and Virginie while they watch a show. Lantier puts his hand on Virginie’s knee, and she moves it to the knee of Gervaise, who removes it. She learns that Henri was nearly arrested but was taken home. She and Lantier find him asleep on the bed. She tries to move him over and takes a pillow to sleep somewhere else. Lantier watches her, and she cries. She runs to him, and he kisses her. He asks her what she is afraid of and pulls her into his room.
In the morning Gervaise pumps water and brings it in. The boy sees Henri sleeping on the bed in his clothes, and Gervaise says she slept in a chair. Gervaise meets Goujet for a drink, and she says nothing is going on. They dance, and he asks why she let Lantier move in. She says she tells him everything. She sits next to him, but she fends off his kiss.
Gervaise is taking care of Henri and Lantier. She says drink is killing Henri. Her daughter tells her that Henri puts her customers’ sheets in the pawnshop. She goes out and finds him drinking in the tavern. She asks him about the sheets and calls him a thief. She tries to get the pawn slip, but he eats it and drinks wine. She and the boy take Henri home.
Gervaise goes to the train station and sees Goujet and the boy. They get on the train that departs. At work Gervaise learns that Virginia’s pillowcase smells of heliotrope. She smells Henri’s pillow. Mme. Boche comes in and complains to Gervaise that her sheets are still greasy. Gervaise says she will do them over. An employee complains she is owed two weeks pay. Gervaise complains that Henri and Lantier do not provide anything. Potatoes are served, and she overturns the table. Lantier says he will find someone to take over the shop and leaves. Henri tells her she wanted her own shop. She says they were better off as employees. Lantier is given some food by an employee. Virginie arrives, and he goes with her.
Gervaise tells Lantier and Virginie she will not give up her shop. Virginie says she wanted to help her out of friendship. Gervaise says she changed her mind when she saw Virginie, who has not changed since she spanked her. Gervaise calls her a slut and says not everyone knows about them. Virginie says she will end up in prison, and Gervaise chases them away.
At home Gervaise treats Henri with suction cups, and he trembles. He gets up and says Lantier wants to screw her. He falls on his back and breaks the glasses. He asks for water, drinks wine, and throws the bottle. He smashes a chair, and Gervaise tries to stop him. He overturns the big table and pulls down shelves. He throws a chair through a window. He walks out the window and is knocked out and taken away in a wagon. Gervaise goes back in the shop and is alone. She sees a glass of wine and drinks it. She looks at the destruction.
Lantier is humming in Virginie’s shop. The little girl Nana comes to the door with dirty hands, and Virginie gives her some candy and a ribbon. The policeman reminds Lantier that when Henri died, people thought they would be better off. Nana goes in the tavern and sees men playing with Tarot cards. She offers her mother a candy, but Gervaise does not respond. Nana walks outside, eats candy, ties the ribbon around her neck, and runs down the street.
This drama portrays the difficult life of a hard-working woman who is attractive to men. One of the fathers of her children is unfaithful and the other drinks so much that he becomes worthless. The other man who loves her is sent to prison for his union activities, and they are not able to get together. The story ends tragically, but Gervaise accomplished much in her life with little help.