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Dante 01 (2007)
Director: Marc Caro

review by Jim Steel

Those who are familiar with Marc Caro (Delicatessen, City Of Lost Children) will be pleasantly surprised at the amount of internal logical constancy shown in this film. On the other hand, those who are more familiar with science fiction in general will be annoyed by the lack of same. It's that kind of a film.

It does look quite brilliant, of course, but it is also a very familiar place. Imagine Alien³ with the copyrighted Fox material replaced with dollops of Kubrick and Tarkovsky, and you are in a place that is very close in appearance to this space station. Of course, Caro's collaborator, Pierre Jeunet, was responsible for directing Alien Resurrection.

A shuttle arrives at the titular space station, which is in orbit around the hellish looking planet Dante. This remote station is a hospital for the criminally insane, and the shuttle is delivering a new member of staff and a new inmate. Both have been cryogenically frozen, although more care seems to have been taken with Elisa (Linh Dan Pham), the new member of staff, than with the new inmate (Lambert Wilson). The medical staff watch the inmates through security cameras, and only intervene (with knockout gas) when they deem it necessary. The inmates have a whole floor to themselves. César (Dominic Pinon in standard Diva nutter mode) is top dog, and the rest tend to follow his lead despite the occasional attempt at murder.

The new inmate is soon nicknamed Saint Georges because of a tattoo, but nobody, staff included, knows his real name. He was the sole survivor on a blood-splattered spaceship, and hasn't talked since. No one seems to have thought of checking the derelict's inventory to find his name. It soon becomes apparent that he has the ability to heal the injured and resurrect the dead, but why he didn't do this on the ship where he was found is also never explained. There are many stumbling blocks like this. The inmates' level is mostly made up of corridors, which seems to serve little purpose other than giving them plenty of space to chase each other around.

When the staff want to go to an emergency control room at one stage, they have to access it through the inmates' floor. They decide to negotiate their passage instead of using the knockout gas on their psychopaths. Maybe they just forgot about the gas. Then they find that the only way to get into the control room involves swimming through scalding water. To some this may seem like a serious design fault. To add to the confusion, everyone has had his or her head shaved. True, there are two different uniforms on display, but it can take a couple of seconds to work out who is doing what to whom a lot of the time.

Then there is the metaphysical layer that coats the film. The Catholic imagery and the theme of redemption go a long way to salvaging the film, but there is much that has been added needlessly. The chapter headings that reference the Circles of Hell from Dante's Divine Comedy, for example, are doubly pointless as they don't relate to the action and they are incomplete. The characters have names such as Attila (Yann Collette), Bouddha (Bruno Lochet), Lazare (Fran´┐Żois Levantal), Persephone (Simona Maicanescu), Charon (Gérald Laroche), Moloch (François Hadji-Lazaro), and so on. Some are ironic, and others are merely irrelevant to the core myths being explored. The film, like the inmates of the station, defies analysis.

And yet there is much to enjoy, or at least feel relieved about. We are spared a shallow prison-break sci-fi movie, such as befell Pinon's old Diva co-star, Christopher Lambert, in the turgid Fortress franchise. Both Saint Georges and Elisa prove that they are not merely viewer surrogates, and the moral high ground moves a surprising distance over the course of the film. The line between inmates and doctors becomes blurred, as the haircuts unsubtly predict, and even if the climax turns out to be a lame 2001 knock-off, the viewer still gets a shock when he first realises the true shape of the space station.

Dante 01 may not be as clever as it thinks it is but, although it is a failure on many levels, at least it is an ambitious failure. The DVD also has a 'making-of' documentary, which spills the beans on some of the imagery (including stuff not mentioned above) and the trailer.
Dante 01

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