Danton (1983)

Riveting Revolution

And another new recruit arrives at Picturenose Towers – young John Tennant of Brussels opens his innings with a look at one of the great accounts of the French Revolution, Danton (1983).

A few years ago, I was a little frustrated at the lack of decent films concerning the French Revolution, being a bit of a Revolution buff myself – sad. isn’t it? However, as some of those at Picturenose know only too well, my love of a certain TV soap makes me perhaps even sadder!

One of the better attempts to depict the Revolution was the Franco-British La révolution française (1989), directed by Robert Enrico and Richard T. Heffron with a brilliant musical score by Georges Delerue, but even this film annoys me a little with its lack of depth.

However, Danton is a tour-de force depicting the realities of the French Revolution whilst the Terror is in full swing, with a haunting climax. It is an adaptation of the Polish play The Danton Case by Stanislawa Przybyszewska, with Wojciech Pszoniak’s Robespierre very compelling alongside Gérard Depardieu’s popular, larger than life, Danton. This is a Polish-French production with a mixed cast from the respective countries and despite some obvious dubbing with certain characters, the film really portrays the political difficulties between the Comité de Salut Public and the rising dissatisfaction with the Terror among Danton and his followers. An excellent and in-depth depiction of the two titans of the Revolution, Robespierre and Danton, culminates in a scene where they meet for dinner, which brings home the huge distinction between the two men – Robespierre is calm and collected, as opposed to the brash and heavy-drinking Danton.

Spoilers ahead – the eerie musical score, as well as the excellent cinematography really brings you into the film, getting a feel for the uncertainty of life in Paris 1794. Quite how this film was released as a B movie is beyond me – Pszoniak is truly believable as Robespierre, his powerful presence is reminiscent of many documents that note Robespierre’s demeanor, as well as his controlling manner. Depardieu is equally strong in his role, one of his earliest, and manages to just miss out on stealing the show. To me Pszoniak is too good to be beaten in this film and he deserves some series credit for his supporting role. Beware the final moments as Danton is condemned to a very graphic exit from this mortal coil, as Robespierre begins to see that he has destroyed the very ideals he believed in.

The film attempts to draw some parallels between the Terror and the Polish Solidarity movement, with director Andrzej Wajda clearly making a political statement with this masterpiece. For French Revolution fans, this is a must-see – it’s certainly one of the best films about the Revolution in existence.

Judge for yourself here.

136 mins. In French.

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