American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The two poles of the French Revolution were the passionate idealism of the republic and the utter finality of the guillotine. "Danton" finds itself comfortable at those two extremes and leaves the parts in the middle -- the facts, the issues, the minor personalities -- to the historians.
This movie may not be an accurate record of the events of 1793 and 1794, and indeed in Paris the critics are up in arms over its inaccuracies. But as a record of the fiery passions and glorious personalities of the revolution, it is absolutely superb. I remember a moment in "Napoleon," the silent 1927 classic by Abel Gance, when Gance tied his camera to a rope and made it into a pendulum that swung back and forth above the inflamed debate in the French senate. That is the spirit in which this film was made.
The name of the director may help to explain the wounded sensibilities of the French. He is Andrzej Wajda, one of the two greatest Polish directors, and winner of last year's Cannes Film Festival for his "Man of Iron," about the Solidarity movement. Wajda is temporarily living in Paris, where it is possible that the subject of the revolution reminded him of the same populist passions in Solidarity.
In any event, he has made a great historical picture, and one with sweat and grime all over it. Whenever I go to see any movie set in the past, I'm reminded of Jack L. Warner's immortal instructions to his producers at Warner Bros., after a series of historical movies had bombed: "Don't give me any more pictures where the people write with feathers." The people in "Danton" write with feathers, and they wear wigs and strike poses, but they do it in scenes of such fierce belief that we forget everything except the moment.