Danton (1982)

 

 

 Director: Andrzej Wajda.

Starring:  Grard Depardieu (Danton), Wojciech Pszoniak (Robespierre), Anne Alvaro (Eleonore), Roland Blanche (Lacroix), Patrice Chreau (Desmoulins), Emmanuelle Debever (Louison), Krzysztof Globisz (Amar), Ronald Guttman (Herman), Grard Hardy (Tallien), Tadeusz Huk (Couthon), Stphane Jobert (Panis), Marian Kociniak (Lindet), Marek Kondrat (Barere De Vieuzac), Boguslaw Linda (Saint Just), Alain Mac (Hron).

Polish-French film about Danton, a moderate leader during the French Revolution.

 

1794, Paris, second year of the French Republic.  A guillotine stands ominously in the public square. 

Danton arrives and is greeted with great warmth by a public throng.  Danton's opponent, the feared Robespierre, has been ill for the past five weeks, but he still approves governmental actions.  One of these is the destruction of a printing press and the destruction of the printed bills of the opposition under the management of Desmoulins. 

Robespierre is afraid that Danton or Desmoulin and their supporters are trying to plot an overthrow of the government.  Robespierre and his supporters on the Revolutionary Tribunal consider the possibility of arresting Danton.  But Robespierre opposes the idea because if they kill Danton the bourgeoisie would join the counter-revolution and then Revolutionary Tribunal would have to rule by sheer terror. 

At the Convention, Danton's supporters are in a near-panic.  They want Danton to back a use of force against Robespierre, but Danton urges them to be calm.  He wants to avoid bloodshed.  Instead, he tells his supporters to attack Hron and his secret police.  They call for the arrest of the Hron.  This throws their opponents into a bit of a dizzy and Danton is declared a hero by his supporters. 

Danton meets with Robespierre, who wants Danton to join him.  Danton refuses.  Robespierre is mad and disappointed.

Robespierre tells the Revolutionary Tribunal that Danton must be arrested.  They get the Public Safety Committee to approve the idea for the arrest of Danton, Desmoulins, and two other supporters, Lacroix and Philippeaux.  Then they add others names to the list: Chabot, Fabre, Basire, Delaunay, Guzman, the Frey brothers, and Dedricksen. 

The Conventions erupts in reaction to the arrests, but Robespierre is able to quiet them down and actually get their approval for the arrests.  His supporters want Danton to flee, but he refuses because he wants to let this happen to show the people how corrupt the committees are.    

The trial is a farce.  They did not even want to let the defendants call any witnesses.  And they resisted allowing the defendants even having a say at all during the trial.  Danton continues to speak to the crowd, although this is against the law.  But Robespierre's attitude is that "When the Republic is at stake, we can do anything."

After a while, they throw Danton out of court and he is followed voluntarily by his co-defendants.  In the absence of the defendants, the court finds the men guilty and condemns them to the guillotine within 24 hours.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

1759  -- Georges Jacques Danton is born in a small town of Arcis.

Becomes a lawyer; moves to Paris; marriage to a woman with a wealthy father-in-law. He takes a large loan to buy a prestigious legal position.

1789  --  the French Revolution begins; enters local politics; leads the Cordelier Club, a spearhead of Parisian radicalism. He makes violent speeches, but he is also cautious and ideologically flexible.

1791 -- Danton is suspected of taking bribes from the Royalists.

1791  -- gets elected to a minor city post.

1792  --  achieves prominence with the fall of the monarchy as minister in the provisional government.   Is elected to the National Convention where he is immediately attacked by the moderate deputies, known as the Girondins, who see Danton as a dangerous radical.

1793  --  fall of  the Girondins. Danton serves on the Committee of Public Safety, the executive organ of the French Republic.  His attempts to end France's war with the European monarchies by diplomacy fails. His ally, Maximilien Robespierre, emerges as the central figure of the committee.

1794 --  the Republic's leadership torn apart by new factional conflicts and by charges of corruption and treason. Danton sympathizes with the faction interested in easing the repression and terror ("indulgents"). His friends, however, undermine him.  Reluctantly, Robespierre decides to get peace and unity by removing the leaders of both the extreme radicals and the "indulgents," including Danton. Robespierre thinks of Danton as just an opportunist.

1794 --  In a trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal, Danton loses his life and his reputation, going to the guillotine on April 5.

1794 (July 28)  --  execution of Robespierre. 

 

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