Death of a revolution

October 10, 2016

The news that Polish film director Andrezej Wajda has died found its way to the BBC World and Euronews websites this morning, and has taken me back to Poland in the days of Solidarnosc. The movement for democratic reform that began in September 1980 had ended with the imposition of martial law, but dissent was still simmering when Wajda’s Danton premiered in 1983. The film takes place in post-revolutionary France, and centres on the confrontation between Danton, played by Gérard Depardieu, and the hardliner Robespierre, played by Wojciech Pszoniak. Despite repeated insistence that Depardieu was not playing Solidarity leader Walesa, and Robespierre was not General Jaruzelski, there were clear parallels in the film between the ‘Reign of Terror’ that followed the revolution in France, and the repressive situation in contemporary Poland. To the Polish audience I watched the film with in Katowice, there was no doubt that the past was about the present.

The film begins and ends with scenes showing Robespierre in ill health – the man who embodies repression is ghostly pale and his days are numbered – and with a recitation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Danton is guillotined at the end of the film, but with his death, Robespierre also realizes he has betrayed the revolution. Poland’s former prime minister and current head of the European Council, Donald Tusk, tweeted: ‘We all stem from Wajda. We looked at Poland and at ourselves through him. And we understood better.’ While the world has lost one of its great filmmakers, Wajda’s death brings with it the prospect of seeing a great film reprised that lays bare the tensions involved in pro-democracy struggles, embodied in the characters of two different protesters. Keep your eyes open for reruns of Danton, or look for glimpses on YouTube.

Alexa Robertson

Cite This:
Screening Protest — "Death of a revolution," in The Screening Protest Project, October 10, 2016