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L'affaire Dreyfus (1899)

Dramatized re-enactments of the events of the Dreyfus-affair from 1894 to 1899.


Georges Méliès




Uncredited cast:
Georges Méliès ... Fernand Labori (uncredited)


In a series of short docu-drama episodes, director Georges Méliès portrays the events of the Dreyfus affair political scandal which lasted from 1894-1906. First, Captain Alfred Dreyfus is accused of treason to France when his hand-writing is discovered to match that of the Bordereau. Sent to Devil's Island, the unfortunate officer spends his time within the Palisade outside his prison, until he's put in leg irons due to innuendo published by an anti-Dreyfusard newspaper. Around the same time, Major Hubert-Joseph Henry, who admitted forging evidence against Dreyfus, commits suicide in prison by the means of a razor concealed in his luggage. Because of this, it is now decided Dreyfus must be tried again in Rennes, where he is reunited with his wife during his imprisonment. Then, several weeks before the trial, the defense attorney Fernand Labori is attacked by an anonymous anti-Dreyfusard attacker who was never identified. Thankfully, he survives in time to present his case. Finally, ... Written by Tornado_Sam

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Short | Biography | Drama

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Did You Know?


This film was banned in France in 1899 because, during showings, it caused fights between pro and anti-Dreyfusards. See more »


Features Dreyfus Court Martial - Arrest of Dreyfus (1899) See more »

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One of the first film serials
13 September 2018 | by Tornado_SamSee all my reviews

Like W. K. L. Dickson's "Rip van Winkle" snippets from 1896, "The Dreyfus Affair" cannot be considered an actual movie. Back in 1899, there were hardly no multi-scene films at all--each snippet took place on a single location while the action took place in front of it. Of course, and despite being innovative in various other ways, Georges Méliès was no different at all and like Dickson before him was forced into doing the same thing. This is not to say that a multi-scene film had not been done before--after all, the earliest known film with more than one scene was "Come Along Do!" by the British Robert Paul, and that one dated all the way back to 1898--but rather that Méliès hadn't caught on to this notion yet (which he would shortly after the completion of this serial, amusingly enough). It's true that this series is more advanced than the aforementioned "Rip van Winkle" in the sense that all of its nine--really eleven--scenes are shot on different sets and use different action--whereas with Dickson's serial, each clip ran only about twenty or more seconds and each segment would often start up in the same location and continue the same action as in its predecessor. The downside to every scene having a different location is that it makes the serial harder to follow; you certainly need some historical background to understand the basic story.

One of the other interesting things about "The Dreyfus Affair" is--besides being one of the earliest film serials--the fact it was actually censored for political reasons. Like politics today, the french folk were just as sensitive about such events. Indeed, while the case of this film is different--Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus being arrested for bribery--the events met with the exact same controversy: who's right and who's wrong? As certain sources state, many audiences believed the various shots which make up the serial were in fact live and that Méliès had actually managed to sneak his cameraman onto Devil's Island, the Lycee du Rennes, etc. to capture the events taking place on celluloid. Nowadays, we'd very easily be able to figure out the series' artificiality, but because of the realism of the series at the time (for instance, the iron-worker who's identity remains a mystery, and who was hired to play Dreyfus himself because of his uncanny resemblance) fights often broke out during the showings, resulting in theaters refusing to show the series and causing it to be censored--in particular, the ending scene in which Dreyfus leaves the Lycee for jail. (Apparently, this scene appears to be available nowhere online now, but along with "The Degradation of Dreyfus" it's not lost). Méliès even reflected the audiences' reactions in the ninth installment, "The Fight of Reporters" in which the journalists have a riot at the Lycee when gathering info about the case and are ushered out of the room. Part of these reactions have to, of course, be because of how Dreyfus is portrayed as innocent throughout. Méliès was a Dreyfusard, and he clearly lets it be known in the final result--also through the fact he plays Fernand Labori, defense lawyer for the unfortunate officer who's attempted assassination is portrayed in part eight of the serial.

Another thing about this serial that has a point of interest is severe lack of special effects. The only effects that can really be spotted in the entire eleven-part story were the lightening flashes during the disembarking at Quiberon scene, used to indicate the approaching storm. Considering it was only 1899, double exposure was still pretty new in Méliès's filmography and is used--instead of to create fantasy worlds--to here initiate the illusion of lightening. This is actually rare in and of itself and I can only recall one other work in his career using double exposures for this purpose: namely, "Robinson Crusoe" of 1902. Outside of this, a film edit is also used before the unknown assassin's second shot at Labori's back, but the reason of this edit remains a mystery, however visible it may seem. While it is true that special effects were a staple product in the director's career, Méliès here proves he can create an interesting film without them--and the reason why he did not, unfortunately, continue to do so was one of the biggest reasons for the decline of his career.

(Note: I will be discussing each individual segment on each IMDb page, except for installments two and eleven which I have not had the opportunity to view online or anywhere else).

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Release Date:

4 November 1899 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Dreyfus Affair See more »

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Star-Film See more »
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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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