Picks and Pans Review: Danton

updated 10/17/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/17/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Andrzej Wajda, Poland's foremost director, fashioned this brilliant, hard-edged movie about the French Revolution. The time is 1793, the place is Paris, and the Revolution, which started out with high hopes and the beheading of the King, is beginning to come apart. On one side is Robespierre, played by Polish actor Wojciech Pszoniak. He is first among equals, given to increasingly repressive measures as he sees the regime come under fire. His rival is Danton, a man of the people and the main threat to Robespierre's rule. They are on a collision course. As Danton, the loutish, swashbuckling popular hero, Gerard Depardieu, awfully busy lately with The Moon in the Gutter and The Return of Martin Guerre, is sensational. He plays the role broadly, recklessly. Beneath his goofy grin is the brain of a pure politician—and one who doesn't try to hide his lust for the good life, despite the professed ideals of the new egalitarian society. As Robespierre, Pszoniak is more than Depardieu's match—his mannerisms, his movements all betray a man on the edge, who, while coldly plotting the murders of his rivals, is also seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It's a bravura performance. The movie was shot in a kind of bold color that makes the action even more terrifying. There are, of course, unmistakable parallels to what is going on in Poland today, as its Communist regime faces a counterrevolution. But this would not in any case be a cold, historical drama: It is like being face to face with the people who have made history, in and out of their bedrooms, their dining rooms. It is intimate, exciting moviemaking. (In French, with English subtitles) (PG)

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