Dante 01 Movie Review
Dante is a hellish planet (its surface a crackling fire-and-brimstone concoction) in deepest space. Around it orbits a psychiatric facility housing a handful of criminally insane patients, several physicians, and three armed guards. Everyone on the ship (which resembles a golden cross made out of Rubik's cubes) has had their head shaved and slinks around in almost complete darkness. The docs, manning computer screens and a device called the Answerer, experiment on patients who live in a warren of sterile steel corridors in the bowels of the ship. There are a multitude of sub-plots swirling in the miasma: a new doctor, Elisa (Linh Dan Phan), with an experimental nanobot-infused drug, a conspiracy between "warden" Charon (Gérald Laroche), and his prize patient, the hacker Atilla (Yann Collette), an aging (perhaps unstable) lead physician, Persephone (Simona Maicanescu), and a new patient (mute at first and dubbed Saint-Georges, the dragon slayer, played by Lambert Wilson) who can "see" parasites affecting the patients and is either, as the ad copy put its, "a monster or a messiah."
Director Caro enjoyed a distinguished career as an acclaimed comic book writer (writing for comics like Metal Hurlant, the original Heavy Metal adult comic magazine) and a short film maker/animator before teaming up with fellow sci-fi fan Jean-Pierre Jeunet and making the breakout films Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. The directing team split after Alien Resurrection, the fourth entry in the Alien film franchise and Jeunet/Caro's first brush with Hollywood. While Jeunet went on to make the successful Amelie (followed by A Very Long Engagement), Caro focused on art direction and animation and reportedly wanted to make this film for quite some time.
There are some marvelous sequences in Dante 01 that may thrill Jeunet/Caro fans (as well as add a little something new to the gothic sci-fi genre): the literal defrosting of Saint-Georges, Saint-Georges' "visions" of the parasites (he eats them when he finds them), and a dive into a cooling tank. However, the film is far from perfect. With an overly oppressive atmosphere and a choppy script, the film is as almost neurotic as its leads. And Caro juggles far too many themes, each with diminishing results: the film starts with a Dante myth, morphs into a standard Poe-inspired "who's really the crazy one here?" story, and closes with a 2001-inspired Christ tale.
Due to a fairly low budget and some reported behind-the-scenes problems, the film looks cheaper than it should (perhaps the reason it's so un-lit). And it's likely some of these budget constraints can also explain several loose threads and the film's non-ending. A failed (though ambitious) experiment in mystical sci fi horror, Dante 01 emerges from its very long gestation to resemble nothing so much as a poorly translated Heavy Metal comic strip.