Danton


2h 16m 1982
Danton

Brief Synopsis

Robespierre quarrels with his colleague Danton, who hopes for a new spirit of tolerance.

Film Details

Also Known As
Ypothesi Danton
MPAA Rating
Genre
Historical
War
Biography
Adaptation
Release Date
1982

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 16m

Synopsis

Robespierre quarrels with his colleague Danton, who hopes for a new spirit of tolerance.

Film Details

Also Known As
Ypothesi Danton
MPAA Rating
Genre
Historical
War
Biography
Adaptation
Release Date
1982

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 16m

Articles

Danton (1982)


The great Polish director Andrzej Wajda had long wanted to turn The Danton Affair into a movie before finally doing so in 1983 with his film Danton. The 1929 play by Stanislawa Przybyszewska was known for its fascinating look at the power dynamics between the two titans of the French revolution: Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton. Set in 1793 and 1794, the film's script by frequent Luis Bunuel screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière focuses on the breakdown of the two men's alliance. Danton becomes moderate as the revolution progresses, while Robespierre remains rigid and "incorruptible." Robespierre sees Danton as betraying the revolution and puts him on trial; the irony, of course, is that the revolution's Reign of Terror would ultimately claim the lives of both men.

Wajda staged the play three times in the years before making the film, but only when he saw Gérard Depardieu in another play in 1980 did Wajda feel he had finally found the actor to play Danton on screen. For Robespierre, Wajda cast the Polish actor Wojciech Pszoniak, who had played the part for Wajda on stage. The rest of the cast was also a mix of French and Poles, all performing in their native languages, with the Polish later dubbed into French for a completely French soundtrack. Wajda felt that Pszoniak, in particular, was better off performing in Polish because he had already done so perfectly on the stage, and a new language might have adversely affected his performance. "The character had grown perfectly into a part of him," Wajda said.

The director originally planned to make the film in Poland, but the imposition of martial law there in December 1981, and the ban on assemblies of three or more people, drove production to France. Major sequences were shot at Versailles, Senlis, and other sites near Paris. The film's cost was about $3.4 million, with completion funding coming from the French government.

Danton was controversial and politically charged from the start, and critics and audiences received the film very differently in different countries. Some found the portrayal of Robespierre too sympathetic and intelligent. The French generally responded negatively, finding the portrayal of the revolution too negative. The Poles generally liked what they saw as a pro-Danton slant, and they equated Danton with the real-life leader of the Polish Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa, who would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and later become president of Poland.

Wajda denied any direct parallels to current events in Poland itself but did say that he saw Robespierre as representing the Stalinist East and Danton the free West. Even so, he was adamant that he saw the film much less as ideological allegory than as an examination of moderation vs. zealotry, and as a portrait of all revolutions. "One of the tragedies of every revolution," he said, is "the point when those who bring it about are no longer in a position to determine how it develops." Before production, Wajda sent Depardieu to Warsaw "for one day to see how revolution looks, and especially how its leaders look in the moment before the collapse of their undertaking.

"Every revolution lives with the fear that it will not manage to bring its work to its conclusion. Hence the hurry, and the endless pressure on the surrounding reality which the revolution tries to force into action. I wanted Depardieu to see the face of the revolution--inhumanly tired, with eyes wide open, which suddenly falls into a sleep which is never fully realized."

By Jeremy Arnold
Danton (1982)

Danton (1982)

The great Polish director Andrzej Wajda had long wanted to turn The Danton Affair into a movie before finally doing so in 1983 with his film Danton. The 1929 play by Stanislawa Przybyszewska was known for its fascinating look at the power dynamics between the two titans of the French revolution: Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton. Set in 1793 and 1794, the film's script by frequent Luis Bunuel screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière focuses on the breakdown of the two men's alliance. Danton becomes moderate as the revolution progresses, while Robespierre remains rigid and "incorruptible." Robespierre sees Danton as betraying the revolution and puts him on trial; the irony, of course, is that the revolution's Reign of Terror would ultimately claim the lives of both men. Wajda staged the play three times in the years before making the film, but only when he saw Gérard Depardieu in another play in 1980 did Wajda feel he had finally found the actor to play Danton on screen. For Robespierre, Wajda cast the Polish actor Wojciech Pszoniak, who had played the part for Wajda on stage. The rest of the cast was also a mix of French and Poles, all performing in their native languages, with the Polish later dubbed into French for a completely French soundtrack. Wajda felt that Pszoniak, in particular, was better off performing in Polish because he had already done so perfectly on the stage, and a new language might have adversely affected his performance. "The character had grown perfectly into a part of him," Wajda said. The director originally planned to make the film in Poland, but the imposition of martial law there in December 1981, and the ban on assemblies of three or more people, drove production to France. Major sequences were shot at Versailles, Senlis, and other sites near Paris. The film's cost was about $3.4 million, with completion funding coming from the French government. Danton was controversial and politically charged from the start, and critics and audiences received the film very differently in different countries. Some found the portrayal of Robespierre too sympathetic and intelligent. The French generally responded negatively, finding the portrayal of the revolution too negative. The Poles generally liked what they saw as a pro-Danton slant, and they equated Danton with the real-life leader of the Polish Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa, who would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and later become president of Poland. Wajda denied any direct parallels to current events in Poland itself but did say that he saw Robespierre as representing the Stalinist East and Danton the free West. Even so, he was adamant that he saw the film much less as ideological allegory than as an examination of moderation vs. zealotry, and as a portrait of all revolutions. "One of the tragedies of every revolution," he said, is "the point when those who bring it about are no longer in a position to determine how it develops." Before production, Wajda sent Depardieu to Warsaw "for one day to see how revolution looks, and especially how its leaders look in the moment before the collapse of their undertaking. "Every revolution lives with the fear that it will not manage to bring its work to its conclusion. Hence the hurry, and the endless pressure on the surrounding reality which the revolution tries to force into action. I wanted Depardieu to see the face of the revolution--inhumanly tired, with eyes wide open, which suddenly falls into a sleep which is never fully realized." By Jeremy Arnold

Danton - Gerald Depardieu Stars in Andrzej Wajda's DANTON on DVD


Most critical attention to the preeminent Polish director Andrzej Wajda still focuses on his celebrated War Trilogy from the 1950s, to the extent that when he was awarded with a special Oscar in 2000, most of the film clips shown were totally unfamiliar to the members of the Academy.

Wajda made many kinds of pictures; 1960's Innocent Sorcerers is an excellent romance among young Polish hipsters, with great jazz music by Krzysztof Komeda. In the late 1970s the director's penchant for topical politics, eventually resulted in films that supported the Polish Solidarity movement. A crackdown by the Communist authorities left Wajda without the ability to make pictures in his own country, which led quickly to the production of the historical drama Danton, filmed in Paris with a half- French and half- Polish cast.

American impressions of the French Revolution invariably lead to film and TV versions of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel, both of which use the wholesale executions at the guillotine as surefire plot devices. The inference is that everything after the storming of the Bastille is chaos and anarchy, with the indiscriminate head-choppings serving as proof that French politics is beyond rational analysis. Danton focuses on the last days of Georges Danton (Gérard Depardieu), one of the instigators of the 1789 revolution who five years later became its most famous non-royal victim.

1794 the revolution had stalled into a murderous period called the Reign of Terror, or just The Terror. Danton was the first president of the Committee of Public Safety, a tribunal convened to maintain control and dispense revolutionary justice. With a war against Austria going poorly, the definition of treason was extended beyond counter-revolutionaries to apply to political opponents as well. Power shifted from the municipal authorities and the National Convention to the Committee, which dispensed the violent executions.

Danton begins with the wealthy, immensely popular leader returning from a rest in the country. Danton's supporters and friends assume that he will challenge the Committee and its ruthless new leader Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak), a paranoid political strategist lacking Danton's connection with the ordinary citizenry. Danton tells his associates that he wants The Terror to end, and that he'd rather become its victim than continue to support the slaughter. He keeps his more militant supporters guessing about his real aims, which allows Robespierre time to formulate a pre-emptive counterstrike. After a failed attempt at conciliation, Robespierre has Danton and his "accomplices" arrested as conspirators against the revolution. Danton makes impassioned speeches to the assembled Convention, but the accused are prevented from defending themselves. The usual summary orders for execution are issued.

Director Wajda makes several interesting choices, starting with his casting. French actors play Danton's supporters while Robespierre's cronies on the Committee are played by Poles. The result is a split in acting styles that differentiates the earthy victims from Robespierre's malign conspirators. Depardieu's Danton is a big and effusive man who loves his pleasures and maintains a positive attitude even as he questions his own part in the Reign of Terror. Wojciech Pszoniak's Robespierre is Danton's exact opposite, a suspicious politician who knows he's playing a game of death. For Robespierre ruthlessness is merely expediency. He strikes first because he assumes others, if they have any sense, think as he does. Robespierre talks with Danton knowing that they can have no meeting of minds, if only because the impulsive Danton refuses to indulge his morbid game.

The arrest and trial toss Danton and his hapless friends into a rigged legal process that can only lead to the guillotine. Pamphleteer Camille Desmoulins (Patrice Chéreau) must watch his wife in the gallery scream for his release while clutching their newborn baby. The cold Robespierre wins, and the film arrives at the gory spectacle at the guillotine. Danton ends with Robespierre's son demonstrating his memorization of the revolution's idealistic "Rights of Man" speech. Wajda doesn't want to give his film its natural conclusion: Robespierre met his own fate only a few months later, when the political tide turned against him.

With Solidarity outlawed and the Communists imposing strict measures in Poland, Danton is rightly considered a political statement by the exiled Andzrej Wajda. The movie shows Robespierre issuing Soviet-style instructions to an artist, insisting that a mural be altered because one of the revolutionary heroes it honors has already been executed as an enemy of the state. By concentrating on the Danton-Robespierre conflict, Danton skips over most of the usual epic crowd scenes but never seems compromised. Historians have complimented the production's accurate costumes, props and other details. We're given an impassioned portrait of two fascinating men at the center of a momentous chapter of history.

Criterion's DVD of Danton is presented in a flawless enhanced transfer that reveals the film's remarkable production design. The colors of many rooms are soft pastels in a similar range, a visual choice that stylizes the 1790s without giving the impression of a film shot in a museum. The wealthy Danton is dressed to the nines but is often so distracted that he goes unshaven and wears his powdered wig misaligned. Many of his supporters dress much more plainly.

The disc producer has located the perfect extra, a lengthy behind-the-scenes TV show that interviews several of the film's creatives and actors. Depardieu reports that he needed special tutoring before playing the role, as he knew nothing about the French Revolution. He compliments his opposite number Wojciech Pszoniak but laughs when put in the position of having to pronounce the Polish actor's name. Video interviews with director Wajda, writer Jean-Claude Carrière and film critic Jerzy Plazewski also appear, as does a trailer.

Film scholar Leonard Quart's insert booklet essay provides informed insights as to the film's political import in 1983. The show will inspire viewers to seek out more information about the French Revolution.

For more information about Danton, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Danton, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Danton - Gerald Depardieu Stars in Andrzej Wajda's DANTON on DVD

Most critical attention to the preeminent Polish director Andrzej Wajda still focuses on his celebrated War Trilogy from the 1950s, to the extent that when he was awarded with a special Oscar in 2000, most of the film clips shown were totally unfamiliar to the members of the Academy. Wajda made many kinds of pictures; 1960's Innocent Sorcerers is an excellent romance among young Polish hipsters, with great jazz music by Krzysztof Komeda. In the late 1970s the director's penchant for topical politics, eventually resulted in films that supported the Polish Solidarity movement. A crackdown by the Communist authorities left Wajda without the ability to make pictures in his own country, which led quickly to the production of the historical drama Danton, filmed in Paris with a half- French and half- Polish cast. American impressions of the French Revolution invariably lead to film and TV versions of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel, both of which use the wholesale executions at the guillotine as surefire plot devices. The inference is that everything after the storming of the Bastille is chaos and anarchy, with the indiscriminate head-choppings serving as proof that French politics is beyond rational analysis. Danton focuses on the last days of Georges Danton (Gérard Depardieu), one of the instigators of the 1789 revolution who five years later became its most famous non-royal victim. 1794 the revolution had stalled into a murderous period called the Reign of Terror, or just The Terror. Danton was the first president of the Committee of Public Safety, a tribunal convened to maintain control and dispense revolutionary justice. With a war against Austria going poorly, the definition of treason was extended beyond counter-revolutionaries to apply to political opponents as well. Power shifted from the municipal authorities and the National Convention to the Committee, which dispensed the violent executions. Danton begins with the wealthy, immensely popular leader returning from a rest in the country. Danton's supporters and friends assume that he will challenge the Committee and its ruthless new leader Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak), a paranoid political strategist lacking Danton's connection with the ordinary citizenry. Danton tells his associates that he wants The Terror to end, and that he'd rather become its victim than continue to support the slaughter. He keeps his more militant supporters guessing about his real aims, which allows Robespierre time to formulate a pre-emptive counterstrike. After a failed attempt at conciliation, Robespierre has Danton and his "accomplices" arrested as conspirators against the revolution. Danton makes impassioned speeches to the assembled Convention, but the accused are prevented from defending themselves. The usual summary orders for execution are issued. Director Wajda makes several interesting choices, starting with his casting. French actors play Danton's supporters while Robespierre's cronies on the Committee are played by Poles. The result is a split in acting styles that differentiates the earthy victims from Robespierre's malign conspirators. Depardieu's Danton is a big and effusive man who loves his pleasures and maintains a positive attitude even as he questions his own part in the Reign of Terror. Wojciech Pszoniak's Robespierre is Danton's exact opposite, a suspicious politician who knows he's playing a game of death. For Robespierre ruthlessness is merely expediency. He strikes first because he assumes others, if they have any sense, think as he does. Robespierre talks with Danton knowing that they can have no meeting of minds, if only because the impulsive Danton refuses to indulge his morbid game. The arrest and trial toss Danton and his hapless friends into a rigged legal process that can only lead to the guillotine. Pamphleteer Camille Desmoulins (Patrice Chéreau) must watch his wife in the gallery scream for his release while clutching their newborn baby. The cold Robespierre wins, and the film arrives at the gory spectacle at the guillotine. Danton ends with Robespierre's son demonstrating his memorization of the revolution's idealistic "Rights of Man" speech. Wajda doesn't want to give his film its natural conclusion: Robespierre met his own fate only a few months later, when the political tide turned against him. With Solidarity outlawed and the Communists imposing strict measures in Poland, Danton is rightly considered a political statement by the exiled Andzrej Wajda. The movie shows Robespierre issuing Soviet-style instructions to an artist, insisting that a mural be altered because one of the revolutionary heroes it honors has already been executed as an enemy of the state. By concentrating on the Danton-Robespierre conflict, Danton skips over most of the usual epic crowd scenes but never seems compromised. Historians have complimented the production's accurate costumes, props and other details. We're given an impassioned portrait of two fascinating men at the center of a momentous chapter of history. Criterion's DVD of Danton is presented in a flawless enhanced transfer that reveals the film's remarkable production design. The colors of many rooms are soft pastels in a similar range, a visual choice that stylizes the 1790s without giving the impression of a film shot in a museum. The wealthy Danton is dressed to the nines but is often so distracted that he goes unshaven and wears his powdered wig misaligned. Many of his supporters dress much more plainly. The disc producer has located the perfect extra, a lengthy behind-the-scenes TV show that interviews several of the film's creatives and actors. Depardieu reports that he needed special tutoring before playing the role, as he knew nothing about the French Revolution. He compliments his opposite number Wojciech Pszoniak but laughs when put in the position of having to pronounce the Polish actor's name. Video interviews with director Wajda, writer Jean-Claude Carrière and film critic Jerzy Plazewski also appear, as does a trailer. Film scholar Leonard Quart's insert booklet essay provides informed insights as to the film's political import in 1983. The show will inspire viewers to seek out more information about the French Revolution. For more information about Danton, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Danton, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1982

Released in United States September 1983

Released in United States July 2000

Shown at New York Film Festival September 1983.

Shown at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival July 5-15, 2000.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1982

Released in United States September 1983 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 1983.)

Released in United States July 2000 (Shown at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival July 5-15, 2000.)