STARRING: Lambert Wilson, Linh Dan Pham, Dominique Pinon, Yann Collette, Bruno Lochet, François Levantal, Simona Maicanescu, Gérald Laroche

2008, 88 Minutes, Directed by:
Marc Caro

The distant future. Tucked away in some long-forgotten corner of the galaxy is Dante, a hellish volcano magma-covered planet. (Guess that would explain the nomenclature.)

Orbiting the planet is Dante 01, a space station belonging to a huge pharmaceutical corporation with dubious ethics (so what else has changed?). Violent and psychotic prisoners who would otherwise have been executed are kept here as human guinea pigs to test the company’s latest treatments. Their choice was simple: be put to death or willingly subject themselves to human experimentation . . .

Into this volatile milieu steps a new prison inmate with no name. The other inmates dub him “Saint Georges” because of his elaborate tattoo depicting a knight slaying a dragon; and because, as one of the nuttier inmates believe, he was sent to Dante 01 by God to slay the dragon, i.e., deliver them from their captors. Nothing is known of Saint Georges except that he was found on an abandoned spaceship. He now seems to be possessed by an alien “presence” that allows him to magically cure his fellow prisoners of various ailments, including stab wounds of which there are plenty on the station even though there aren't that many prisoners. (Incidentally one cannot help but wonder what kind of a cockamamie corporate accounting department actually approved building an entire space station just to house a handful of prisoners!)

Also new to the station is an upstart young doctor who promptly starts injecting the inmates with a new nanotechnology “treatment” that causes violent bodily reactions on the test subjects. As the caption to a Gary Larson cartoon would say, this is trouble a’ brewing and soon all sorts of things go wrong . . .

"Reeks of something written by a self-important first-year philosophy student . . ."

Except that one is never actually sure exactly sure what it is that going on because the screenplay has an unfinished quality to it, maybe (a) because the film-makers were too lazy to finish it; (b) didn’t have the budget to film all the scenes in the screenplay; (c) the film-makers are French. Don’t hold the French thing against Dante 0.1 though. Despite its myriad of faults, it is still more intriguing than a lot of pap produced by Hollywood nowadays. The truth is however that the movie does pack a huge wallop of pretentiousness – right from characters being named after ancient mythical figures such as Persephone and Charon to the voice-over dialogue that reeks of something written by a self-important, first-year philosophy student (is there any other sort?).

The final result is a maddening mishmash in which the viewer is never exactly sure of what exactly is going on. Some of it seems to be wilful obscurantism (that danged Frenchness!), but some of it is also a case of clumsy storytelling. Ultimately Dante 01 is Sartre’s No Exit with visuals cribbed from the last two Alien movies. Speaking of which, the effects and sets are quite decent. The film is directed by Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s co-director on the classic City of Lost Children and Delicatessen. Caro was also a design supervisor on Alien Resurrection. It shows! (It feels as if Dante 01 was filmed on leftover sets from that movie.)

The ending seems to be taken straight from 2001: A Space Odyssey, except for the overt Christian overtones (Kubrick would never have been that obvious). But whereas 2001 left a lingering sense of mystery, Dante 01 simply leaves audiences bewildered, wishing that someone did indeed give the film-makers enough money to properly finish their movie . . .


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