Film review: Dante 01

May 18, 2009 by
Filed under: Film reviews 

dante01affIn theory, all the ingredients that should make Dante 01 an effective science fiction / horror hybrid are present; but theory is very different from execution…

Director Marc Caro was one half of the innovative team behind the dark adult fairytales Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children; and his input to that successful collaboration is shown here as he runs solo for the first time: the claustrophobic steely cold environment, the lumbering spacesuits a la Sunshine; the shadowy ship, much like the Event Horizon.

The crucifix-shaped Space Station Dante 01 is a medical experiment; criminally-insane prisoners avoid the death penalty by agreeing to undergo drug trials and observation by a skeleton crew of scientists and security wardens. This uneasy arrangement is rocked when a new and unspeaking inmate, (Lambert Wilson, who played The Merovingian in The Matrix films), arrives under the care of a beautiful scientist, Elisa, who is under orders to test a new nanotechnology-based drug. The new prisoner, nicknamed Saint George, is apparently the sole survivor of an event that wiped out his crew and left him with the gift/curse of seeing inside people’s bodies. As Eliza’s drug kills the inmates, Saint George brings them back to life, seizing hold of the nano-tech virus and eating the infection, healing more than just the drug-induced illness. The prisoners and remaining staff must race against time to save themselves from the self-destructing ship and the determined Elisa.

The dialogue is appropriately minimal and the acting eerily intense; the entire cast is shaven-headed, the uniforms colour coded. Women are small and elegant; the men are huge, and craggy-faced, or physically twisted and manipulative. Characters’ names represent their actions: Charon the Prison Warden; Caesar the murderer; Lazarus, and so on. There are a couple of scenarios that should never have got past the draft scripting stage – why oh why would the emergency detonation shutdown switch be located beneath the prisoner’s quarters, at the far end of a corridor flooded by boiling water…?

Frustratingly, the event that shaped Saint George is not explained at all, not even hinted at. His talents are very much like a Sineater’s – taking on the sin of the deceased, but also moving into the God-like through resurrection and saintly silence, crying for the pain of others and the visions he experiences. This quasi-religious non-message begs explanation – just why is Saint George seeing what he is seeing, and what is his purpose? Unfortunately the film is simply too short, at 84 minutes, to answer these questions; the climactic scene is simply a repeated loop of special fx, that whilst technically spectacular and visually iconic, is far from informative and ultimately unsatisfying.

Still, Dante 01 is worth your time for its looks, quirks and impressive character acting, but it could have been so much more.

Dante 01, 2008

Director: Marc Caro; Writers: Marc Caro, Pierre Bordage, David Martinez

[This review was originally published in the Winter 08/09 edition of Prism, the Newsletter of the British Fantasy Society]


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