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DANTON (director/writer: Andrzej Wajda; screenwriters: Jean-Claude Carriere/Jacek Gasiorowski/Agnieszka Holland/Boleslaw Michalek/based on the play “L’Affaire Danton/Sprawa Dantona” by Stanislawa Przybyszewska; cinematographer: Igor Luther; editor: Halina Prugar-Ketling; music: Jean Prodromides; cast: Gerard Depardieu (Georges Danton), Wojciech Pszoniak (Maximilian Robespierre), Anne Alvaro (Éléonore Duplay ), Roland Blanch (Lacroix), Patrice Chereau (Camille Desmoulins), Boguslaw Linda (Saint Just), Franciszek Starowieyski (David), Ronald Guttman (Herman), Emmanuelle Debever (Louison Danton), Alain Mace (Heron), Roger Planchon (Fouquier-Tinville), Krzysztof Globisz (Amar); Runtime: 136; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Margaret Menegoz/Renzo Rossellini; Criterion Collection; 1983-Poland/France/Germany-in Polish with English subtitles)
A long-winded and overlong period costume drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A long-winded and overlong period costume drama with a predictable message on the French Reign of Terror, though evoking, if not the accuracy of the times, at least its passion for change. Some critics maintain, even if denied by noted Polish director Andrzej Wajda(“Samson”/”Kanal”/”Katyn”), that the historical film offered a simplistic allegorical commentary upon current events in Poland over the struggle between Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement and the puppet Soviet Communist regime of the Polish government run by General Jaruzelski. The problem is the film was taken from the 1931 play “L’Affaire Danton/Sprawa Dantona” by Stanislawa Przybyszewska, Wajda’s fellow countryman. Wajda has said that Danton represents the muddled Western world today, and Robespierre the totalitarian way of the Stalinists in the East. The comparison between the ruthless fastidious hypochondriac revolutionist Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak) and the tormented corrupted man-of-the-people lawyer Danton (Gerard Depardieu), has Robespierre supposedly as the Polish general and Danton as the Polish union leader.

The drama is all about the quarrel between these two prominent Jacobin revolutionary leaders, once friends, who overthrew king Louis XVI and gave the world the proclamation of the Republic, just a few years ago. The two giant egotistical iconic figures of the revolution are seen grappling throughout with how to bring law and order to the republic: the dedicated pragmatic zealot revolutionist Robespierre, who argues that greater terror brings about more justice, and his more idealistic colleague Danton, who argues for more tolerance and a commitment to the revolutionary aims of freedom.

The action begins in November of 1793, some five years after the storming of the Bastille, with Danton returning to Paris from his country retreat of voluntary exile upon learning that the Committee for Public Safety, under the sharp-tongued Robespierre’s direction, has begun a ‘reign of terror’ through massive executions (in the end executing 40,000). This dispute of irresolute wills is settled in the end by the moderate Danton, a man who said “I’d rather be executed than be an executioner,” facing the guillotine in 1794, as he utters a warning to the head of the Committee for Public Safety while on the scaffold: “show them my head, it will be worth it.” Within three months after the execution, the Committee for Public Safety is torn apart by infighting, and the citizens denounce one another as chaos erupts in Paris and it becomes Robespierre’s turn to face the guillotine.

The re-creation of history is vivid but it becomes too exhaustive, as it goes on and on continuing to make too many political points when it made all the points it needed much sooner. But it’s full of vinegar, Depardieu makes for a spirited Danton and Wajda is an intelligent director.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”