Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda’s historical drama about the final showdown between two key figures of the French Revolution — Danton (Gérard Depardieu) and Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak) — eschews historical pageantry in favor of a more intimate approach. Danton (1983) — made while the director was living briefly in France — is very close to being a great film. It is compromised by being both overlit and by Wajda’s insistence on casting Polish actor Wojciech Pszoniak as Robespierre, necessitating his dialogue to be distractingly dubbed by a French actor. (There are other dubbed Polish actors in the film, but none so up close and personal as Pszoniak.) Still, the film is amazingly vibrant and compelling. Gérard Depardieu’s Danton is one of the actor’s best performances — a careful balancing act between buffoonish clown and a deeply concerned champion of the people against Robespierre’s Reign of Terror. It’s a role that fits Depardieu as few have done. At the film’s center is Danton’s trial — a put-up job with an inevitable outcome — and it’s one of the best such depictions of a trial ever put on film. In many ways, it clearly draws from Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) — even to the hair-cutting scene (that isn’t carried as far) and a dissonant musical score by Jean Prodromidès that recalls Peter Maxwell Davies’ unsettling score for Russell’s film. Wajda’s film is ultimately less shattering, but it is undeniably powerful. Catch this one.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Danton Friday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District, upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com