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Film / Danton

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Danton (French pronunciation: ​[dɑ̃tɔ̃]) is a 1983 French language film depicting the last weeks of Georges Jacques Danton, one of the major figures of The French Revolution, played by Gérard Depardieu. It is an adaptation of the 1929 Polish play The Danton Case by Stanisława Przybyszewska.

The film stars Gérard Depardieu in the title role, with Wojciech Pszoniak as Maximilien Robespierre, and Patrice Chéreau as Camille Desmoulins. It was directed by the Polish director Andrzej Wajda and was an international co-production between companies in France, Poland and West Germany. All supporters of Danton (with the exception of Bourdon, who would later betray him) are played by French actors, while Robespierre's allies are played by Poles.

Not always rigidly historical, the film was accused of drawing parallels between the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution and the situation in then-contemporary communist Poland, in which the Solidarność movement was struggling against the oppression of the Soviet-backed Polish government. While such interpretation was denied by the filmmakers, the communist government banned the film and went as far as denying it being a Polish co-production.

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This film contains examples of:

  • Corrupt Politician: How many on the Committee of Public Safety see Danton. Historian Mona Ozouf notes "As to the question of venality Danton’s contemporaries were in no doubt.” Danton’s new bourgeois lifestyle afford by his corruption made him soft and tired. Ozouf argues that Danton’s change to leniency in moderation of the Terror was “striking, since his reputation until this point was hardly one of lenience."
  • Courtroom Antic: Danton appeals to the crowd and asks questions when he is not allowed to.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: Collot d’Herbois as an actor is dramatic in the film. He showcases his career differences with the others along with his “histrionic and impulsive” personality when he shouts “Lawyers tricks!”
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Historian Mona Ozouf argues that Danton’s change to leniency in moderation of the Terror was “striking, since his reputation until this point was hardly one of lenience.” A striking moment in the film is when a prisoner shouts at Danton, “So there is Justice. The creator of the Tribunals is destined to die” and then spits on him.
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  • Genius Cripple: Couthon shows mechanical genius with his moving wheelchair and determination to convict Danton without regard to his own comfort by jumping on Amar’s back to go and Legendre to sign a confession that there was a plot by Desmoulin’s wife and Danton’s non-imprisoned supporters to surround the Revolutionary Tribunal.
  • Gilded Cage: Danton and his supporters are imprisoned in a former aristocrat's mansion before their trial.
  • Hellhole Prison: Danton asks while in jail, “How can you pack living people like this?”
  • Icon of Rebellion: Many revolutionaries wear Phrygian caps.
  • Kangaroo Court: Danton and his supporters see his trial as this. Robespierre only allows seven jurors to participate in Danton's trial because they are the only ones sure to convict him. The legal requirement is for there to be twelve jurors. Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville tells Robespierre this but Robespierre does not care. Robespierre also has Danton and his supporters tried with common criminals.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: Robespierre worries about Danton rallying the bankers to his cause.
  • Reign of Terror: The film according to the titles starts in Spring 1794 in Paris. But the Danton and Desmoulin’s newspaper Le Vieux Cordelier was shut down on February 3, 1794. The Terror started in September 1793, which means that that the Terror has already been going on for five months.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Terror started in September 1793, which means that that the Terror has already been going on for five months. Historically, Danton thought that “the people should have the right to live without giving a thought to the fact that they happened to be in the midst of a revolution.”
  • Secret Police: Interesting note is that in the film, Heron, the head of the secret police who worked for the Committee of General Security who was denounced by Bourdon, was arrested and later executed alongside the Dantonists and other criminals.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Robespierre sees himself as this.

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