DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Danton, Special Edition Double-Disc Set (1983/2009)

Probably one of the finest films about the French Revolution, Wajda’s version zeroes in on the fight between the two major personalities of the Revolution - Danton and Robespierre

Published on March 27, 2009

Danton, Special Edition Double-Disc Set (1983/2009)

Danton, Special Edition Double-Disc Set (1983/2009)

Director: Andrzej Wajda
Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Wojciech Pszoniak
Studio: Gaumont/The Criterion Collection 464
Video: 1.66:1 for 16:9 color
Audio: French Dolby mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: Original theatrical trailer, Video interviews with Wajda, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and Polish film critic Jerzy Plazewski, “Wajda’s Danton” – 42-min. documentary on the making of the film, Printed booklet with new essay by film scholar Leonard Quart
Length: 136 minutes
Rating: *****

Probably one of the finest films about the French Revolution, Wajda’s version of the fight between the two major personalities of the Revolution – Danton and Robespierre – had parallels with the situation at the time in his home country of Poland. The Communists had just declared marshal law and cracked down on the Solidarity movement there. They made any assembly of four or more people illegal, so Wajda moved the entire planned production to Paris. He used a group of top Polish actors, speaking in Polish, plus Depardieu as a very convincing Danton and the rest of the actors speaking French. One does notice the lip movements in close ups of Robespierre and others don’t even come close to the French soundtrack.

While other films and books have had Robespierre as the main protagonist, in spite of his icy character and committed continuation of the Terror of the Guillotine – of which he was finally also a victim – Wajda made the earthy glutton Danton the hero of his film.  Danton has a good part of the populace on his side and although he voted to behead the king he now wants to halt the Reign of Terror and stop the Public Safety Committee, which is working at supporting Robespierre as a ruthless dictator.

The use of genuine French locations added much to the production. Wajda found a suburb of Paris that stood in for the Place de Concorde, where most of the executions took place in front of huge crowds who vied for the best seats each day. Depardieu is superb as Danton, and his stressed condition, as well as nearly all the others involved, is well conveyed. Most slept in the National Convention building and didn’t change clothes, most were plagued with lack of enough sleep.  The brutality of the Terror is portrayed convincingly, and on the way to the Guillotine Danton predicts that Robespierre will be next, and he was.

The transfer is excellent, as with all Criterion DVDs, and the two featurettes are well worth viewing.

 - John Sunier




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