Danton (movie, 1983)

Danton is a Franco – Polish film directed by Andrzej Wajda , released in 1983 and adapted from a play.


Paris , in a spring of 1794 that seems frozen: the first shots show sans-culottes warming near a brazier. Since September 1793 is the first part of the Terror , where the losing faction, here the least extremist, are led to the guillotine .

The mountain deputy Danton left his retreat of Arcis-sur-Aube and won Paris to call for peace and the cessation of the Terror. Popular, supported by the Convention and political friends who have influence over opinion (including the journalist Camille Desmoulins ), he defies Robespierre and the powerful Committee of Public Safety . Danton, presented as a bon vivant, is involved in several corruption cases, including that of the East India Company : but Robespierre refuses first to indict him, fearing the anger of the popular classes who carried the Revolution. It is an interview with his opponent, a real camera revealing the political differences and irreconcilable characters of the two leaders of the Revolution, which consumes the break. On the proposal of Robespierre, the Committee declares the arrest of Danton and his friends.

During the parody of the lawsuit that follows this decision, Danton uses his eloquence to defend the accused group and push the Revolutionary Tribunal , embodied by the Public Accuser Fouquier-Tinville , to its last limits. Without witnesses, without the possibility of defending themselves or speaking, the Dantonists address the crowd who attend the audience (” French people … “) and show them sympathy: the Court then uses a decree to exclude them one by one from the debate. The group is imprisoned, Desmoulins rejects the visit of Robespierre who wants to spare him, and all are guillotined on.

The final scenes show a worried and indecisive Robespierre, a reminder of Danton’s prophecy during their interview: the first of them who falls leads the other, and the Revolution with him.

Technical sheet

  • Title: Danton
  • Director: Andrzej Wajda
  • Scenario: Jean-Claude Carrière , with the collaboration of Andrzej Wajda , Agnieszka Holland , Bolesław Michałek and Jacek Gąsiorowski , according to Stanisława Przybyszewska’s Danton Affair
  • Production: Gaumont – TF1 Films Production – SFPC – TM
    with the participation of the Ministry of Culture , Paris and Film Polski
  • Producer: Emmanuel Schlumberger ; Margaret Menegoz for the Losange Films ; with the collaboration of the Production Group X Warsaw ( Barbara Pec-Šlesicka )
  • Image: Igor Luther
  • Sets: Allan Starski
    with the collaboration of Gilles Vaster
  • Costumes: Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle (made by Tirelli -Rome)
  • Music: Jean Prodromides
    with the Warsaw Philharmonic , conducted by Jan Pruszak
  • Sound: Jean-Pierre Ruh , Dominique Hennequin , Piotr Zawadzki
  • Editing: Halina Prugar-Ketling
  • Production Manager: Alain Depardieu
  • Language: French
  • Format: Colors – 1.66: 1 – Monophonic sound – 35 mm
  • Genre: Historical Movie
  • Time: 136 minutes ( 2 h 16 )
  • Release dates:  (La France),  (Poland)
  • For all


  • Gérard Depardieu : Danton
  • Wojciech Pszoniak : Robespierre
  • Anne Alvaro : Eleonore Duplay
  • Patrice Chéreau : Camille Desmoulins
  • Lucien Melki : Fabre
  • Angela Winkler : Lucile Desmoulins
  • Serge Merlin : Philippeaux
  • Roland Blanche : Jean-François Delacroix says “Lacroix of Eure-et-Loir”
  • Alain Macé : Heron
  • Bogusław Linda : Saint-Just
  • Roger Planchon : Fouquier-Tinville
  • Krzysztof Globisz : Amar
  • Marian Kociniak : Lindet
  • Stéphane Jobert : Panis
  • Jacques Villeret : Westermann
  • Wladimir Yordanoff : the chief of the guards
  • Jean-Loup Wolff : Marie-Jean Herault de Séchelles
  • Emmanuelle Debever : Louison Danton
  • Jerzy Trela : Billaud-Varenne
  • Czesław Wołłejko : Vadier
  • Franciszek Starowieyski : David
  • Erwin Nowiaszek : Collot d’Herbois
  • Ronald Guttman : Herman
  • Gérard Hardy : Tallien , President of the National Convention
  • Tadeusz Huk : Couthon
  • Marek Kondrat : Barere de Vieuzac
  • Bernard Master : Legendre
  • Leonard Pietraszak : Carnot
  • Andrzej Seweryn : Bumblebee
  • Szymon Zaleski : The Bottom

Reception, historical background and parallel

The film is a doubly historical work: through the evocation of the spring of 1794 of the Terror , Wajda especially made a film about Poland in 1982 . Andrzej Wajda renders the sets and costumes with documentary precision and accentuates the oppressive atmosphere of Paris in March-April 1794 under the Terror . But it diverts this historical context – sometimes with anachronisms and modifications – to paint a political picture of Poland in 1982 , when the communist regime just banned the young Solidarnosc trade union and arrested its main leaders. In this sense, it is not a historical film about Danton.François Furet , in Le Nouvel Observateur du, however, writes: ” The miracle of this film is that it is never anachronistic, although it never stops, through Danton and Robespierre, to speak to us today [Poland in 1982 ] ” .

The film was commissioned originally by the French Republic, during the socialist presidency of François Mitterrand , anxious to celebrate the Revolution. The President and his ministers did not expect Wajda to consider this phase of the French Revolution, the Terror, from such a critical point of view. Also, the private screening made before the release of the film, on January 6, 1983, at the Cinematheque in the presence of François Mitterrand and Jack Lang , Minister of Culture, and other ministers was greeted by an audience “hesitating between perplexity and fury “, The President quickly disappearing after the end of the film 1 .

Indeed, according to Laurent Dandrieu , Wajda’s vision of the Revolution is “iconoclastic” enough: “a revolution that has only the freedom and the rights of the man in the mouth, but whose daily life is only massacre and oppression ” 2 .

The man of the street against the man of power

The work is built on the opposition between two men, Danton and Robespierre , who embody two different visions of the Revolution : the first wants to stop the Terror, the second wants to extend and keep the executive committees. Behind these historical figures is the duel of two other men, the trade unionist Wałęsa and the general and statesman Jaruzelski : Walesa, at the head of his union Solidarnosc, gaining power as the Polish population turns away from the communist regime; he therefore becomes threatening to Jaruzelski’s incumbent power. One can also read in filigree the data of the debate which opposes in the French historiography of these years, two opposite interpretations of the French Revolution (theses of Mazauric – Soboul against those, here defended by François Furet ).

As in the scene of the trial where accusers and accused gradually take the assistance for sole judge, both sides claim the people: Robespierre-Jaruzelski is represented as the man of government who established the dictatorship of the committees in the service of the salvation of the nation; but Danton-Walesa defies the Committee of Public Safety , conscious of holding true power: the popularity and adherence of the tired street by a transitional regime which claims to succeed itself indefinitely to itself.

The film does not hesitate to bend the historical identities in the service of this comparison: the scene of the interview between the two men was actually made at the initiative of Danton.

Historical freedoms

Some passages are not completely true on a historical level:

  • The film shows us Saint-Just first signing the arrest of Danton and Desmoulins , but it seems that the first to have signed Billaud-Varenne .
  • Lucile’s red ribbon around his neck would have been used only in the balls of the victims , which took place only after the death of Robespierre. Moreover, Lucile had already been arrested, as part of the conspiracy of prisons, pretext used by committees to exclude Danton and his co-accused debates.

The “double scenes”

Beyond General Jaruzelski, Wajda aims Stalinism at work in the Eastern European People’s Democracies and denounces the supervision of their societies. Some scenes call for this double reading, sometimes with historical anticipations and distortions: the message of a political nature eclipses the reconstruction of the course of the Revolution. In order of appearance:

  • Rationing and the missing bread, scene of waiting in front of the bakery: the interminable queues are then frequent in Poland of the 1980s .
  • Parisians who stop talking politics when a member of the sections appears: direct reference to a population closely watched by Party members. Similarly, Danton pronounces at one point the anachronistic expression of “political police”.
  • The ransacked printing press of Le Vieux Cordelier , newspaper of Camille Desmoulins : the military took control of the Polish television in 1981 ; more broadly, it is the absence of the freedoms (of press, of opinion) in the Eastern democracies which is sketched by this scene.
  • The arbitrary, expeditious, and unrepresented trial of the Dantonists: a retelling of the great political trials and Stalinist purges that afflict the citizens of Eastern Europe, including prominent members of the Party.
  • The prison and the dogs, the faces behind the gates on the way to the scaffold: it is the repression that is represented here.
  • The painting of David modified at the request of Robespierre, who removed Fabre d’Eglantine , one of the defendants of the trial: (historically doubly inaccurate 3 ) reference to the framing of art by the power in place (see Soviet realism ) and the stilted photos of the Stalinist Soviet Union on which the disgraced militants are erased.
  • The final scene, a child reciting in a monotone voice the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen that was made to him by heart at the beginning of the film: it is on this pessimistic vision of creation of a new a revolutionary man, or the recruitment of a youth into his memory , that Wajda’s film ends.

Around the film

A piece of theater directly inspired the work of Wajda: L’Affaire Danton Polish playwright Stanisława Przybyszewska , written between 1925 and 1929 .

This piece, according to the scriptwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, was one of the main sources of inspiration. Stanisława Przybyszewska was very inspired by the reading of the writings of the French historian Albert Mathiez . From her many studies on Robespierre and Danton she drew up, in her play, an admiring picture of the Incorruptible while stigmatizing, conversely, the corrupted Danton. The playwright has managed with ease and without anachronism combine accurate documentation and sustained language that undeniably belongs to the beginning of xx th century .

As Wajda, interviewed in the documentary La Voix du peuple, Wajda in the revolutionary fever of Pierre-Henri Gibert, provided in addition to the DVD edition of the film, said he had the idea of the film by attending in Paris in a representation of the play L’Affaire Danton in which Gérard Depardieu played the title role. Subjugated by the performance of the French actor, he immediately made the proposal to engage him in his project. Wajda and Jean-Claude Carrière decided to adapt the play by defending Danton’s figure much more in the image of the Polish politics of the time, as mentioned above.



  • Louis-Delluc Prize 1982 (Andrzej Wajda)
  • Cesar Award for Best Director 1983
  • BAFTA Awards (Best Foreign Language Film)
  • London Critics Circle Film Awards 1984 (Director of the Year, Andrzej Wajda)
  • Montreal World Film Festival 1983 Best Actor (Gérard Depardieu, Wojciech Pszoniak)
  • National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA (Best Actor Gerard Depardieu)
  • Polish Film Festival 1984 Andrzej Wajda


  • César of the cinema 1983
    • Best actor – Gérard Depardieu
    • Best movie – Andrzej Wajda
    • Best sound – Jean-Pierre Ruh, Dominique Hennequin, Piotr Zawadzki
    • Better adaptation and dialogue – Jean-Claude Carrière


  • Originally released as a 33-rpm album by Gaumont, the soundtrack of the film Danton composed by Jean Prodromides was reissued on CD at Disques Cinémusique in 2010. The program of this disc included two other music tracks of the same composer originally published in super single (EP): Special Friendships and And Dying of Pleasure . Online presentation.  [ archive ] The soundtrack of Danton , like that of And Dying of Pleasure , is now available for download, including iTunes.


On other Wikimedia projects:

  • Danton (film, 1983) , on Wikiquote


  • Maurice Agulhon , ” The French Revolution in the dock ,” Twentieth Century: History Review , o 5,p.  7-18 ( read online  [ archive ] ).
  • Daniel Beauvois , ” The Danton Case Stanislawa Przybyszewska ” Historic Annals of the French Revolution , o 240,p.  294-305 ( read online  [ archive ] ).
  • (in) Paul Coates “” Where id was … “Danton Selon Georg Büchner, Przybyszewska Stanisława and Andrzej Wajda,” in Patrick Fortmann and Martha B. Helfer, (ed.) Commitment and Compassion: Essays on Georg Büchner. Festschrift for Gerhard P. Knapp , Rodopi, 2012, p. 283-302.
  • JJ Alain Cohen , ” Danton , or the last temptation of Wajda: notes sash plans ,” Vertigo , o 4 “Revolution Screens”p.  87-92 ( ISSN  0985-1402 ).
  • Sylvie Dallet , The French Revolution and Cinema: From Light to Television , Éditions des Quatre-Vents, coll.  “Cinema and its history”,, 240 p. ( ISBN  2-907468-04-9 , online presentation  [ archive ] )
    (Work from a doctoral thesis on film and television, defended in 1987 at the University Paris- X Nanterre in front of Serge Bernstein , Marc Ferro and Paul Gerbod, [ online presentation  [ archive ] ] .)
  • (in) Robert Darnton , The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History , New York, Norton,XXI -393 p. ( ISBN  0-393-02753-8 ) , “Film: Danton and Double-Entender” , p.  37-52.
    (Analysis of the film by Robert Darnton , originally published in The New York Review of Books ,p.  19-24 .)
  • (In) Janina Falkowska , The Political Films of Andrzej Wajda: Dialogism in Man of Marble , Man of Iron , and Danton , Berghahn Books,, 256 p. ( ISBN  978-1-57181-005-2 , online presentation  [ archive ] ).
  • François Furet (edition established and prefaced by Mona Ozouf ), An intellectual itinerary: the historian journalist, from France-Observer at Nouvel Observateur (1958-1997) , Paris, Calmann-Lévy, coll.  “Freedom of the spirit”,, 617 p. ( ISBN  2-7021-2952-8 ) , “Comrade Danton? “, P.  286-290.
    (Analysis of the film by François Furet , originally published in Le Nouvel Observateur ,.)
  • Florence Gauthier , ” About Danton Wajda ” historical Annals of the French Revolution , o 251p.  182-185 ( read online  [ archive ] ).
  • Raymond Lefèvre , Cinema and Revolution , Paris, Edilig, coll.  “Cégraphiques”,, 221 p. ( ISBN  2-85601-199-3 ).
  • (in) Mary Ashburn Miller, ” Andrzej Wajda’s Danton ” , Fiction and Film for French Historians: A Cultural Bulletin , Vol.  2 o 3, ( read online  [ archive ] ).
  • Zoe Protat , ” Once upon a time there was the Revolution: Danton by Andrzej Wajda, ” Cine-Bulles , vol.  33, o 3,p.  44-49.
  • (in) Mieczyslaw Szporer , ” Andrzej Wajda’s Reign of Terror: Danton ‘s Polish Atmosphere ” , Film Quarterly , vol.  37, o 2, Winter 1983-1984, p.  27-33 ( DOI  10.2307 / 3697387 ).

External links

  • Analysis of the film  [ archive ] by the site of the Thucydide association ( Enlightening the News and the facts of society through the History )
  • Danton  [ archive ] on the Internet Movie Database

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Philippe Hugues , “Danton challenged by Andrzej Wajda,” La Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire , o 89, March-April 2017, p.  61
  2. ↑ Lawrence Dandrieu Dictionary passionate film , Ed. of The New Man, 2013, p. 76
  3. ↑ The painting of David in question – The Tennis Court Oath – was started and left out before the trial of Danton; Fabre d’Eglantine, at the time comedian, was also not one of the deputies of the States-General.

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