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French import Blu-Ray/Region All pressing. Grard Depardieu and Wojciech Pszoniak star in Andrzej Wajda s powerful, intimate depiction of the ideological clash between the earthy, man-of-the-people Georges Danton and icy Jacobin extemist Maximilien Robespierre, both key figures of the French Revolution. By drawing parallels to Polish solidarity, a movement that was being quashed by the government as the film went into production, Wajda drags history into the present. Meticulous and fiery, Danton has been hailed as one of the greatest films ever made about the Terror.
- Aspect Ratio : 1.66:1
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : s_medNotRated Unrated (Not Rated)
- Package Dimensions : 7.32 x 5.51 x 0.39 inches; 3.52 Ounces
- Media Format : Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Import
- Run time : 136 minutes
- Release date : April 20, 2010
- Actors : Danton
- Dubbed: : French, English
- Subtitles: : English
- Language : English (Dolby Digital 2.0), French (Dolby Digital 2.0)
- Studio : Imports
- ASIN : B002XVZ24I
- Number of discs : 1
Best Sellers Rank:
#140,388 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- #9,482 in Drama Blu-ray Discs
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This performance is one of Depardieu's finest. Interestingly, however, it is the character of Robespierre who receives the most favorable treatment. How do we normally see him? As a monster and a villan, but here he is humanized. Robespierre the man is rightly depicted as being out-of-touch with the masses and remaining unshakeably fixated upon utopian ideals that no man is capable of meeting. Had he comprehended this, France would have been spared much blood and misery. Had Danton been less absorbed and more decisive, perhaps there would have been some mitagation of the great terror. To me, this film would warrant ten stars on a ten point scale.
duel between Danton and Robespierre. A duel between human being and the reign of terror. Masterfully directed
and Depardieu (Danton) in peak form. A must see.
Top reviews from other countries
We are huge watchers and fans of foreign language films, and Andrzej Wajda’s superb ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ (1958) and ‘The Promised Land’(1974) have delighted us. So, when I discovered that he had directed a film about Georges Danton, one of the leading figures of the French Revolution, starring one of our favourite French actors, Gérard Depardieu as Danton, we looked forward immensely to seeing it.
The film was made in 1982, as a Polish/French/German co-production. It was based on a 1929 stage play, ‘The Danton Case’, by the Polish dramatist Stanisława Przybyszewska. Most of her works were about the Revolution, before she died, tragically young, of poverty and TB, in 1935. This play is highly regarded. It was adapted for the cinema by Wajda and others, with some major edits to allow it to also act as a commentary on the contemporary struggles of Solidarność against the pro-Soviet government in Poland.
France’s Socialist government under François Mitterand, planning for the bicentenary of their own Revolution in 1989, sponsored the making of the film. Danton and his protagonists were all French actors. Danton’s opponent and nemesis, Maximilien Robespierre, and his faction, were all Polish. It was filmed in Paris, and other French locations. Senlis, a beautiful cathedral city in Oise, northern France, stands in for Paris in the street scenes.
The look of this film is absolutely stunning. From the first opening shots, it reeks authenticity. The exteriors, the sublime interiors, and the fabulous costumes (they manage to look both opulent and somehow under-laundered and smelly), the hair styling, the little details of food, the horrendous prison, the executions, the workings of French painter Jacques-Louis David, are all superb. Hollywood was never as good.
But, but, but! Oh, we SO wanted this to be as enjoyable as ‘The Promised Land’, about a chapter of Poland’s own history. But it isn’t. It really is most disappointing. Apparently, at a private showing in 1982 for the French President and his Minister of Culture, there was consternation at the portrayal of these icons of their Revolution; it is really NOT an edifying display. However, the real problem is that all the characters spend a huge amount of time talking AT each other, often at the tops of their voices, and at least ¾ of the 130 minute running time is one vast incoherent muddle. It feels very stagy, rather dated, and the passion is sadly all rather hysterical. This is NOT Depardieu at his best, and certainly not Wajda.
“Danton” (1983) is one by him I love. I thought I would write about it now before 2016 slips away from us entirely. Why? Because Wajda died this year, aged 90, a year in which so many other luminaries in the arts and sport also left us (Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, Muhammad Ali and Johann Cruyff, to name just a few). A young Gérard Depardieu (sublime in his younger years as an actor) stars as Georges Danton (1759-94). His anguished performance as the doomed French revolutionary at the start of France’s new republic is truly remarkable and memorable, one that contributed greatly to the film winning a BAFTA award for Best Foreign Film. Danton’s former comrade-in-arms in the Revolution, now turned arch-enemy, is Maximilien Robespierre (1758-94), also played brilliantly by the Polish actor Wojciech Pszoniak, whose spoken French is impeccable.
But in temperament, disposition and bearing the two men were like night and day. Danton is outgoing, gregarious, generous, a man of the people, loved and trusted by them. It’s not just that he’s eloquent and articulate; he has heart. He cares about the plight of the people. Their degraded condition is the result of oppression and neglect. Overtaxed, poor and hungry, they’re despised as uncouth and illiterate by the Ancien Régime, meaning the crown and aristocracy. The common people exist to support the privileges of the wealthy. It’s how it’s always been, the way society is structured, and thus not to be tampered with. In the past it was seldom tried, but now times are changing due to many political and economic events at home and abroad. This will be more than a peasant revolt. It will be a revolution that changes the world.
So Danton had the common touch. He could relate to people and they to him. He became their champion in the early days of the Revolution. Robespierre, by contrast, was a cold fish: insular, stiff, dogmatic, a stickler for rules, a man strictly by the book, a bureaucrat in outlook. Formerly a lawyer, he was more at home with court rooms, law books, judges and clients than with streets and taverns and ordinary people. Machiavellian by instinct, he preferred the corridors and committee rooms of power. He would never be loved by the people, nor did this matter to him. The Revolution for him was real, but it was an ideal, an intellectual pursuit, a personal abstraction gleaned from Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and other learned thinkers of the Enlightenment. What did the people — butchers, bakers, tavern keepers and street sweepers — know of the Enlightenment? His detachment, disdain and paternalism thus became a new form of absolutism once the monarchy had been deposed and the aristocrats sent packing, or, in most cases, herded without proper trial toward the scaffold and guillotine.
“A charlatan in a powdered wig.”
That’s what Danton calls him in the film, and there’s truth in it. Anything and everything could be rendered acceptable in the name of the Revolution for Robespierre, even terror and summary executions, summed up by a famous Orwellian statement he made at the height of the Terror:
“To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is barbarity.”
In other words:
“Don’t cross me or the blade is waiting for you.” (my quotation)
The film opens with Robespierre ill in bed. He is struck down with fever. He looks weak and weary, hardly a revolutionary figure at all. He’s attended by his landlady’s daughter, a woman with a young son to whom she’s been teaching the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The boy is about five or six. He struggles to remember the many rights articulated by the document. But he must be taught them. They are part of a new mantra, a people’s secular religion. These rights, if enacted, will make the world fresh and better. The mother believes this and wants her son to believe it too. In fact, it is a good article of faith. The rights are noble in conception and spirit. The world would be better off if they were understood, appreciated, respected and applied. But even here in Paris, where the rights were conceived, blood flows during the Terror, irony being as common on Earth as iron is at its core.
While Robespierre lies sweating, half-delirious in bed, Danton returns to Paris by coach. His horse-drawn carriage winds through the old narrow cobblestone streets of the city. Crowds gather and cheer. People lean from their windows to get a glimpse of the great man. He’s been in exile in the countryside, but now’s the right time for his return he reckons. The Revolution is wobbling. Peace and order must be restored. The carriage can progress no further, halted by the crowd. He steps out, greets the people, waves, shouts patriotic slogans. The people roar. They love him and what they hear.
Danton’s return empowers those around him, both the common people and his inner circle. One of Danton’s comrades (Camille Desmoulins) runs a newspaper. Robespierre feels threatened by what’s printed in it. He sends thugs with sledgehammers to destroy the printing presses. This they do, outraging Desmoulins and incensing Danton. But Danton keeps his cool. He knows violent reaction is exactly what Robespierre’s provocation was calculated to achieve. Instead, Danton invites him to a private, lavish dinner. Reluctantly, warily, Robespierre consents and goes. But he says and reveals nothing, agrees to nothing. Mutual distrust reigns. Danton is the republican, the man of the people. Either Robespierre knows this and resents it, or he believes it to be an elaborate deceit by Danton, a way of undermining Robespierre’s power. It’s partially both, actually. Danton is popular because he’s loved and trusted by the people. There’s no deceit in this. But, true, if he can seize power, he will. Robespierre, the autocrat, is thus paranoid. Their meeting over dinner comes to nothing. Danton tries to reach the man in Robespierre but fails because there’s no man there, or none Danton can find. All human feeling, if it ever existed in Robespierre, has been drained from him. Humanitarianism is a weakness, a foil to strength. Strength lies in rationality, in the ideals of the Revolution, in political aphorisms, not genuine thought. More irony, then, as it was Robespierre who coined the Revolution’s most powerful and enduring slogan:
Liberté Égalité Fraternité
Sounds and looks so nice. But it was meant to be, to enact, not to sound and look.
And that’s the difference: Danton gets it, Robespierre doesn’t. Tragically, we know where this schism will lead. Robespierre thinks the solution to protecting his authority is to eliminate his enemies. But there are too many, and they only increase when he makes his worst mistake, ordering the arrest and execution of Danton.
Danton knew what this meant. He said publicly at his kangaroo trial that Robespierre’s action was the work of a desperate man. He was unravelling, Danton said, and the people would prevail, the tyrant would be toppled. They had not struggled to destroy one form of despotism, under Louis XVI, only to have it replaced by another.
“He will soon be in a grave near mine!” Danton shouts to the assembly in the courtroom. And of course he was right. Georges Danton was executed without due process (without proper witnesses for the defence) on 5 April 1794. The very same fate befell Maximilien Robespierre on 28 July 1794, less than four months later, the only difference being that Danton was murdered by the state whereas Robespierre was brought to justice by it.
“A Tale of Two Cities” by Dickens takes place during the Terror, sweeping up most of his characters in it. Some survive, others don’t. The French Revolution, it could also be said, is partly a tale of two revolutionaries, one good and genuine, the other bad and false. It’s a gross simplicity, but there’s truth in it. A further irony, however, is that Robespierre would never have seen it this way. He was too deluded, brainwashed by his own ideology, as all fanatics are. Which reminds me of a famous comment by Oscar Wilde:
“The worst vice of a fanatic is his sincerity.”
The French Revolution (1789-99) changed the world. Some historians even see it as the most important event in world history. Why? Because of the political forces it unleashed — forces that have shaped the modern world. It largely made the democracies and republics that exist today. It did away with feudalism, absolutism, despotism. It stripped monarchies of their power. It wrote universal rights and privileges into law for all citizens. It made equality a virtue and reality, not a dream: equal rights under the law. If abuses continue, if the ideals of the French Revolution are not always adhered to and applied, this isn’t the fault of the Revolution itself. It’s our fault, just as it was Robespierre’s, not to protect these ideals through their proper legal use. But we have the blueprint. The Revolution gave it to us.
There have been other great events in history similar to the Revolution: the Magna Carta (1215), parliamentary reform in Britain during the so-called Glorious Revolution (1688-89), the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution (1776). But the Declaration of the Rights of Man came first out of the French Revolution. The Bill of Rights in the U.S. came later, directly influenced by the Rights of Man. And if you’re curious, read the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) online. It’s a direct descendent of the Rights of Man, and in some cases is written word for word, copying the original.
They fought for better lives as ordinary and desperate people. They opposed their government, ruling class and monarchy. In the end they had no choice. Die of poverty, disease and starvation, or die in pitched battles storming the Bastille. They took up cudgels and took to the streets. Danton fought with them. And even though they didn’t know they were doing it, they fought for rights that now belong to all of us. Every man (person) has two countries, Jefferson said, his own and France. So true.
But that is not why I bought it; rather, it was purchased as part of my appreciated of the work of the late Patrice Chereau, a favourite French director but who here is an actor playing the part of Camille Desmoulins, journalist and colleague of Danton.
It is spring 1794. Paris. The Revolution is almost five years' old. The king was executed the previous year. The country is run by a Committee of Public Safety, which is only nominally subservient to the National Convention. It is a time of great tension and paranoia on the streets of the capital, well represented here by the soundtrack by Jean Prodromides that reminded me of some of the work of the composer Ligeti.
In short, Paris is like a police state, with the Committee of Public Safety acting the part of the Politburo. Arrests take place at night and there are consequences for anyone who does not support the government. When lives are at stake, can a man trust his friend not to betray him? As lawyer and member of the Convention Pierre Philippaux tells Desmoulins, now "Politics has nothing to do with justice."
In this atmosphere there are two giants: the austere Robespierre, leader of the Politburo; and his erstwhile colleague Danton, man of the people, fresh from a spell at home in the provinces and out of the limelight. Danton returns to Paris with the intention of calming the terror he had himself partly created.
Danton's popularity immediately puts the Committee of Public Safety on its guard. He is arrested on trumped-up charges and is naïve enough to think that he can win his political show-trial, the events of which take up the last quarter of the movie. Danton's defence has been called "sublime in its audacity, its incoherence, its heroism and magnificent buffoonery." Gerard Depardieu in the part does not disappoint.
And yet Robespierre (who is here played supremely well by Wojciech Pszoniak as a man who is both stubborn and fearful, but nevertheless cold to friendship) knows that his revolution is lost whether Danton wins or not, and himself goes to the guillotine only three months after Danton.
This then is a fine atmospheric film that attempts to convey not only the feeling on the streets and in the halls of counsel at this pivotal moment in French history, but also to exercise and elaborate the issues and personalities at stake.
Alas, there are no extras on my disc. The only issue regarding its quality is that there is a problem with some of the ADR, with the words of Robespierre a micro-second out of synch. This makes watching the scenes in which Danton and Robespierre exchange detailed dialogue a little disconcerting. I assume it is a problem with the original film production rather than the transfer to DVD.