The Dreyfus Affair (1899)
Original title: L'affaire Dreyfus
(Original) L'affaire Dreyfus
(Alternative) Dreyfus Court-Martial
(France, 1899) Georges Méliès
CategoriesAnti-Semitism Arrest Banned Film Based on True Story Biography Black and White Court Drama History Jew Politics Prison Serial Short Silent Film Suicide BiographyDramaHistoryShortAnti-Semitism, Arrest, Banned Film, Based on True Story, Black and White, Court, Jew, Politics, Prison, Serial, Silent Film, Suicide
Based on a true story, that began in 1984 and was still in progress when the film was released, the film was made about The Dreyfus Affair by Georges Méliès. It is considered the first film serial as it was made in 11 installments that were sometimes shown in sequence.
Dreyfus is suspected of espionage and arrested and put in prison. His main accuser takes suicide and an unknown gunman tries to murder Dreyfus's attorney. The film also shows the conflict and fight between the pro and anti-Dreyfus factions. The affair was considered anti-semitic as Dreyfus was a jew and Méliès tries with the film to show that he was innocent of the charge of treason.
Dramatized re-enactments of the events of the Dreyfus-affair from 1894 to 1899.
The title refers to a historical event in France in which a Jewish military officer was discharged for bribery, and it was alleged that he was framed due to anti-semitism.
The first movie ever censored for political reasons. The title refers to the then contemporaneous Dreyfus affair in which a Jewish military officer was falsely convicted of treason, and it was alleged that he was framed due to anti-semitism.
The Dreyfus Affair
France, late 1894. After consulting with colleagues, French Army officer Mercier du Paty de Clam orders an underling to bring Captain Dreyfus to him. Dreyfus enters and salutes, and du Paty de Clam orders him to sit down at the table. He takes out a piece of paper and dictates names to Dreyfus, who writes them down. When he has finished, du Paty de Clam accuses Dreyfus of being the author of the ‘bordereau’, the list of military secrets from which he was dictating. Dreyfus denies it. Du Paty de Clam indicates the revolver on the table, and turns his back. Dreyfus refuses to commit suicide. Du Paty de Clam’s colleagues escort him out of the office. 
Alfred Dreyfus, clad in white suit and helmet, paces up and down in a small prison stockade. He eventually sits down to read a book, but dashes it to the ground in frustration before holding his head in his hands. A guard enters and hands him a letter. Dreyfus attempts to engage him in conversation, but without success. After the guard leaves, Dreyfus reads the letter, but it does nothing to alleviate the gloom. 
1896. In a hut in the Devil’s Island stockade, Alfred Dreyfus is sleeping. Two guards walk in, one holding a lantern and some leg-irons. The other wakes him, and produces a written order, which he reads aloud. Dreyfus is clearly distressed by its contents, and pleads for mercy. However, the guards hold him down on his bed, fit metal bands round his ankles, attach them to the leg-irons and fix the latter to the bed. The guards quickly check the contents of the room and leave. 
In a prison cell, Colonel Joseph Henry paces up and down before sitting at the table to write a letter. He seals and addresses it, then walks over to the bed. Halfway there, he turns round and retrieves a cut-throat razor from a leather bag on the floor. He opens it, then puts it down on the table. After a brief hesitation, he picks it up again, walks over to the bed and slits his throat. He slumps against the bed and then falls on the floor, blood soaking through his shirt. A guard opens the door, sees the scene and summons two colleagues. They examine the body while the first guard finds the letter. 
At Quiberon harbour, a military detachment waits beside a boat. They move into formation as the sailors emerge. One hands over some documents to the officer in charge, who inspects and approves them with a signature. Alfred Dreyfus then emerges from the boat and climbs ashore. He is surrounded by soldiers, who march him away. 
In the military prison at Rennes, Alfred Dreyfus is seated at a table poring over books. A guard enters and salutes him, indicating that there are people outside. Dreyfus asks him to show them in. His lawyers Edgar Demange and Fernand Labori enter and are greeted by Dreyfus prior to the three of them taking seats around the table. Dreyfus points out something in the book he was reading earlier, which leads to an animated conversation. He has just got up to show them another document when the guard re-enters to say that he has another visitor. It is his wife Lucie, and her friend Madame Havet. Clearly overwhelmed with emotion, the reunited couple embrace, prior to Dreyfus sitting on the bed with his head in his hands. 
Rennes, 14 August 1899. Maître Labori (Alfred Dreyfus’s lawyer), Colonel Picquart (the man who unmasked the real forger), M. Gast (Mayor of Rennes) and an unidentified woman are walking near a bridge. They stop for a chat, and the woman leaves. A man creeps up behind them, behaving suspiciously, but although the trio notice him, they don’t think anything of it. They turn to walk across the bridge, whereupon the man draws a gun and shoots Labori twice in the back. He runs off, pursued by Labori’s companions. Labori lies on the ground in agony, trying and failing to attract the attention of two passers-by - but a third comes to his assistance, and calls for help. 
Rennes, August 1899. Various journalists take their seats in the courtroom at the second court-martial of Arthur Dreyfus. Though the atmosphere is cordial at first, Arthur Meyer of the ‘Gaulois’ starts an argument with Madame Séverine of the ‘Fonde’. She leaps to her feet, and so do most of the other journalists, triggering a pitched battle with many laying about them with their sticks. Many participants flee when the gendarmes get involved, and the remaining reporters are subsequently expelled. 
12 August 1899. The court martial of Alfred Dreyfus at the Lycée in Rennes. The sergeant of the court strides up and makes an announcement. Colonel Jouast and the other judges arrive and take their seats, along with Maître Labori, Commandier Cordier and Adjutant Coupois. Dreyfus is then brought in, and Jouaust questions him. General Mercier, the first witness, enters, salutes the judges, and mimes that he’d like a seat. One is brought, and a debate ensues, which becomes heated to the point when Mercier leaps up and begins gesticulating. When he sits down, Dreyfus rises and makes a protest. 
|Georges Méliès||-||Fernand Labori|
Unlike most other Georges Méliès films, this one is one he tried to depict as accurate as possible. This means very few special effects(there are some, like the lighting from the sky) and no magic, just a plain reconstruction of ongoing current events that were of importance of the day. Méliès chose the side of Dreyfus and is thus portraying him sympathetically. Not the most spectacular film, and in order to understand the scenes you kind of have to know about the historical events - so before you watch it, do some reading.