Movie 13min

The Dreyfus Affair (1899)

Original title: L'affaire Dreyfus

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Director Georges Méliès
Country France
Language French
(Original) L'affaire Dreyfus
(Alternative) Dreyfus Court-Martial
(Alternative) The Dreyfus Case
(France, 1899) Georges Méliès
Alfred Dreyfus Anti-Semitism Arrest Banned Film Based on True Story Biography Black and White Court Drama Historical Drama History Jew Politics Prison Serial Short 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.

Source: Imdb

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.

Source: Mubi

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.

Source: TMDB

The Dreyfus Affair
Descriptions from the Star Film catalog number 206 - 217. Only 9 of the 11 parts are considered to survive.
Dreyfus Court Martial—Arrest of Dreyfus (Dictée du bordereau (arrestation de Dreyfus))
Du Paty de Clam requests Captain Dreyfus to write as he dictates for the purpose of ascertaining whether his handwriting conforms to that of the Bordereau. He notices the nervousness of Dreyfus, and accuses him of being the author of the Bordereau. Paty de Clam offers Dreyfus a revolver, with advice to commit suicide. The revolver is scornfully rejected, Dreyfus stating that he had no need for such cowardly methods, proclaiming his innocence. His arrest is immediately ordered by M. Cochefort.


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. [1]
The Degradation of Dreyfus (La Dégradation)
Shows the troops ranging in a quadrant inside the yard of the Military School in Paris. The Adjutant, who conducts the degradation, reads the sentence and proceeds to tear off in succession all of the buttons, laces, and ornaments from the uniform of Captain Dreyfus, who is compelled to pass in disgrace before the troops. A most visual representation of this first act of injustice to Dreyfus.
Devil's Island—Within the palisade (La Case de Dreyfus à l'île du Diable)
The scene opens within the Palisades, showing Dreyfus seated on a block meditating. The guard enters bearing a letter from his wife, which he hands to Captain Dreyfus. The latter reads it and endeavours to talk to the Guard, who, however, refuses to reply, according to strict orders from his Government, causing Dreyfus to become very despondent.


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. [2]
Dreyfus Put in Irons (Dreyfus mis aux fers (la double boucle))
Showing the interior view of the hut in which Dreyfus is confined. The scene takes place at night, showing the moon through the window of the cell. Two guards stealthily approach the cot upon which Dreyfus is sleeping. They awake him and read to him the order from the French minister–M. Lebon–to put him into irons, which they proceed at once to accomplish. Dreyfus vigorously protests against this treatment, which protests, however, fall on deaf ears. The chief sergeant and guards before leaving the hut, inspect the four corners of same by means of a lantern.


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. [3]
Suicide of Colonel Henry (Suicide du colonel Henry)
Shows the interior of the cell of the Prison Militaire du Cherche-Midi, Paris, where Colonel Henry is confined. He is seated at a table writing a letter, on completion of which he rises and takes a razor out he had concealed in his porte-manteau, with which he cuts his throat. The suicide is discovered by the sergeant of the guard and officers.


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. [4]
Landing of Dreyfus at Quiberon (Débarquement de Dreyfus à Quiberon)
A section of the port Haliquen (Quiberon) Bretagne, at night where Dreyfus was landed by French marines, and officers after his transport from Devil's Island. He is received by the French authorities, officers, and gendarmes, and conducted to the station for his departure to Rennes. This little scene was enacted on a dark rainy night, which is clearly shown in the film. The effects are further heightened by vivid flashes of lightning which are certainly new in cinematography.


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. [5]
Dreyfus Meets His Wife at Rennes (Entrevue de Dreyfus et de sa femme (prison de Rennes))
Showing room at the military prison at Rennes in which Dreyfus the accused is confined. He is visited by his counsel, Maître Labori and Demange, with whom he is seen in animated conversation. A visit from his wife is announced, who enters. The meeting of the husband and wife is most pathetic and emotional.


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. [6]
The Attempt Against the Life of Maitre Labori (Attentat contre Me Labori)
Maître Labori is seen approaching the bridge of Rennes in company with Colonel Picquart and M. Gast, Mayor of Rennes. They notice that they are followed by another man to whom Colonel Picquart calls Labori's attention. They, however, consider his proximity of no importance, and continue to speak together. As soon as their backs are turned, the man draws a revolver and fires twice at Maître Labori, who is seen to fall to the ground. The culprit makes his escape, pursued by Colonel Picquart and M. Gast.


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. [7]
The Fight of Reporters at the Lycée (Suspension d'audience (bagarre entre journalistes))
During an interval in the proceedings of the court martial, the journalists enter into an animated discussion, resulting in a dispute between Arthur Meyer of the 'Gaulois', and Mme. Severine of the 'Fronde', resulting in a fight between Dreyfusards and Anti-Dreyfusards, in which canes and chairs are brought down upon the heads of many. The room is finally cleared by the gendarmes.


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. [8]
The Court Martial at Rennes (Le Conseil de guerre en séance à Rennes)
A scene in the Lycee at Rennes, showing the military court-martial of Captain Dreyfus. The only occupants of the room at this time are Maître Demange and secretary. Other advocates and the stenographers now begin to arrive and the sergeant is seen announcing the arrival of Colonel Jouaust and other officers comprising the seven judges of the court-martial. The five duty judges are also seen in the background. On the left of the picture are seen Commander Cordier and Adjutant Coupois, with their stenographers and gendarmes. On the right are seen Maître Demange, Labori, and their secretaries. Colonel Jouaust orders the Sergeant of the Police to bring in Dreyfus. Dreyfus enters, saluting the Court, followed by the Captain of Gendarmerie, who is constantly with him. They take their appointed seats in front of the judges. Colonel Jouaust puts several questions to Dreyfus, to which he replies in a standing position. He then asks Adjutant Coupois to call the first witness, and General Mercier arrives. He states that his deposition is a lengthy one, and requests a chair, which is passed to him by a gendarme. In a sitting position he proceeds with his deposition. Animated discussion and cross-questioning is exchanged between Colonel Jouaust, General Mercier, and Maître Demange. Captain Dreyfus much excited gets up and vigorously protests against these proceedings. This scene, which is a most faithful portrayal of this proceeding, shows the absolute portraits of over thirty of the principal personages in this famous trial.


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. [9]
Dreyfus Leaving the Lycée for Jail (Dreyfus allant du lycée de Rennes à la prison)
The exterior of the Lycee de Rennes, where the famous Dreyfus Court-Martial was conducted, showing the French staff leaving the building after the sitting, and crossing the yard between the French soldiers forming a double line. Maîtres Demange and Labori also make their appearance, walking towards the foreground of the picture, and at length Captain Dreyfus is seen approaching, being accompanied by the Captain of Gendarmes, who is conducting him back to prison.
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Georges Méliès - Fernand Labori
Georges Méliès - Cinematography
Georges Méliès - Producer
Georges Méliès - Writer
Georges Méliès - Director
Méliès Realism

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.