A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Danton (Andrzej Wajda, 1983)

Gérard Depardieu in Danton
Danton: Gérard Depardieu
Robespierre: Wojciech Psoniak
Éléonore Duplay: Anne Alvaro
Camille Desmoulins: Patrice Chéreau
Louis de Saint-Just: Bogusław Linda
Lucille Desmoulins: Angela Winkler

Director: Andrzej Wajda
Screenplay: Jean-Claude Carrière
Based on a play by Stanislawa Przybyszewsa
Cinematography: Igor Luther
Production design: Allan Starski
Music: Jean Prodromidès
Costume design: Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle

Watched on Filmstruck Criterion Channel

Movie costume dramas are usually moral fables, designed not so much to teach history as to illuminate current events. That's certainly the case with Andrzej Wajda's Danton, a French-Polish collaboration about the power struggle between Danton and Robespierre that put an end to the first phase of the French Revolution and paved the way for the rise of Napoleon. Wajda intentionally cast French actors as Danton and his followers and Polish actors as Robespierre and his partisans, suggesting a similarity of Robespierre's suppression of free speech and civil liberties t that of the Soviet puppet government in contemporary Poland. But the performances allow the film to override its political allusions. Gérard Depardieu looks goofy in a powdered wig, and he knows it, but he makes a fascinating Danton, clumsily trying to win Robespierre over with an elaborate dinner and attention to such trivial details as a flower arrangement -- Robespierre likes blue, he insists -- but then angrily sweeping the dishes to the floor when Robespierre proves resistant. In the end, his powerful denunciation of what Robespierre has done to France demonstrates why Danton was such a threat to his enemy. Wojciech Psoniak's Robespierre is almost overmatched by Depardieu's Danton, but he communicates not only the character's hidebound devotion to what he sees as the aims of the Revolution but also his gradually mounting disappointment at the impending doom of his ideals. The end, in which his mistress's nephew recites the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, which he has dutifully memorized, is a powerfully ironic moment, emphasizing how Robespierre's direction of the Revolution has compromised and vitiated those rights. Wajda gives his film a strong forward movement, never stalling to preach at us.

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