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The Criterion Collection presents
Danton (1983)

“Who would dare condemn me?”
- Georges Danton (Gérard Depardieu)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: March 30, 2009

Stars: Gerard Depardieu, Wojciech Pszoniak
Director: Andrzej Wajda

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult situations, violence, brief nudity)
Run Time: 02h:16m:41s
Release Date: March 31, 2009
UPC: 715515042819
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+A-B B+

DVD Review

The great Polish director Andrzej Wajda has been making movies for nearly 60 years, and he’s still going strong. With yet another film, Sweet Rush, making the festival rounds in 2009, and his 2007 effort Katyn hitting a limited amount of US theaters now, what better time than now to revisit one of his best, 1983’s Danton?Coming off his Cannes Film Festival award-winning feature Man of Iron, Wajda decided to chronicle his ownunique take on the French Revolution. Given that Wajda is a Polish director, it might seem strange, let alone controversial, that he tackle a battle between two of the Revolution’s biggest figures. However, it’s his ability to draw comparisons between the French and his own nation’s political affairs that help make Danton the unforgettable movie experience that it is. The Criterion Collection’s new two-disc release only enhances it even more, thanks to wonderfully enhanced audio and video presentations and a nice collection of high-quality extras on the second platter.

In the spring of 1794, those directly involved with the French Revolution had begun turning on each other. Georges Danton (Gérard Depardieu) was one of the highest-regarded figures in the Committee of Public Safety and was responsible for creating the Revolutionary Tribunal. Maximilien Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak) has become more powerful than Danton and has convened the Committee, which has decided that Robespierre’s former colleague is to be executed. The Committee’s determination that Danton’s extremist ways are bad for the Revolution is the result of Robespierre’s personal vendetta; in reality, Danton only wants what’s best for the people of France.

Around the 90-minute mark of Wajda’s wonderful epic, we get to what we’ve been slowly build up to; Danton’s “trial.” We get quite a bit of exposition leading up to this big payoff, but, thankfully, Wajda keeps the pacing tight and fast. He also presents the material so you don’t have to be an expert on the French Revolution to follow along. Those of you who are familiar with the history behind the film will know what happens following the trial, but, regardless, the ending is effectively chilling and surprisingly gory. Jean Prodromides’ score is haunting to say the least, coming to the forefront at the most appropriate times to add another layer of grimness to a story that is already far from cheery and uplifting.

There was a brief period in his career when Gérard Depardieu attempted to break through into the Hollywood mainstream, but he's clearly at his best when he sticks to his native tongue as he does here, taking this famous historical character and making it difficult to picture anyone else in the role. Still, this is just as much Wojciech Pszoniak’s show as it is Depardieu’s. His portrayl of Jacobin extremist Maximilien Robespierre is extraordinary, and culminates in a wonderful sequence at the end of the movie. Wajda simply trains his camera in one, stationary position, allowing Pszoniak to lift his head during a riveting speech, creating the extremely effective feel that Robespierre is coming right into our living room during this poignant moment.

Wajda attempts to capture every minute detail of life in France during that time period, which only adds to the wonderfully authentic feel of the film. While showing us the fashion sense of the period isn’t exactly something new in a period piece, Wajda goes the extra mile by making his actors sweat profusely during many of the indoor scenes. It’s easy to forget that climate control was rather hard to come by during the French Revolution. He also gives us a look at what had to have been the earliest wheelchair ever made. This thing is truly a sight to behold, as are the other great nuances that puts us right in the middle of an amazing time in world history.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is sharp and detailed. The color palette is rich, with deep blacks and reds that never suffer from bleeding or other blemishes. Despite its age, the film is virtually free of dirt, grain, or other print flaws that might have bogged this transfer down.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original French mono track is here, and it does a great job ensuring that the dialogue is clearly heard throughout. It also excels at working the great score into the overall mix, but never compromises the dialogue clarity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Jean-Claude Carrière interview
Extras Review: The only extra on Disc 1 is the original theatrical trailer, but Disc 2 has more, beginning with Wajda’s Danton. This 42-minute, 1983 documentary by Tomasz Pobog-Malinowski chronicles the production. It is a great piece that focuses on Andrzej Wajda’s detailed, intense filmmaking technique via cast and crew interviews.

The Polish “Revolution” runs for 17 minutes and features new interviews with Wajda and longtime Polish film critic Jerzy Plazewski. This pair talks about the making of Danton and how the French reacted to the film.

There’s also a new, 14-minute interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, during which he talks about the potentially sensate material he was writing.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Andrzej Wajda is back in the cinematic spotlight thanks to domestic critical acclaim for his recent film Katyn, but one of the movies he’s most regarded for is 1983’s Danton. Featuring a pair of powerhouse performances by Gérard Depardieu and Wojciech Pszoniak, Wajda’s masterpiece is getting the two-disc DVD treatment it deserves thanks to The Criterion Collection.


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