Dante 0.1 Review
Its been some time since Marc Caro made any cinema. His films with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, were justly praised for their originality, wit and cartoon like sensibilties. They were films in a world of big TV, proper motion pictures which had a considered look and intelligence about the stories they told. They were often poetic and endearing, but also connected to darker themes. Since then Jeunet has made the decidedly un-dark Amelie and a gallic riff on Saving Private Ryan, and Caro has finally delivered Dante 01.
The title indicates some of the film's ambition in terms of allegory as this is a story of a space station drifting into the sun. The film is split up into a number of "circle"s and deep questions of what makes human beings who they are are discussed through the storyline. It is clearly difficult to accuse the film of being superficial or not aiming high enough, but it is the case that it often is messy and unexplained.
The space station is in fact an experimental space prison with the worst killers being studied and experimented on by scientists. Behaviour modification programs, drugs, and control and restraint are used but it is with the arrival of the ambitious Elisa that a new experiment begins. Nanotechnology that re-writes aberrant DNA to correct the criminal within is loosed on the inmates. Along with Elisa has come a new prisoner, Saint-George, who can't speak and soon starts to worry the prisoners' ring leader Cesar. Other prisoners see the new arrival as a messiah and he heals inmates who are mortally wounded and who have fallen prey to Elisa's methods. But when the station is sabotaged and falls to possible destruction, the scientists find they need the prisoners help.
Caro's film is filled with metaphor and symbolism not all of which is easily read. Characters are named things like Buddha, Persephone, Moloch, Caesar and Attila, and are imbued with meaning such as redemption, martyrhood, compassion, hierarchy and anarchism. The scientists are brought to schism when Persephone, the one who understands nature, is usurped by Elisa's individualism and easy science, and the inmates move from gang rule based on violence to co-operation and acceptance. Humanity is clearly in crisis in this future state and heading towards its destruction. This holocaust may occur because of greed, lust, and politics, and perhaps sharing, love and faith won't prove enough to prevent it. Then again, the film is so crowded with ideas and notions, I am not really sure whether the intention is meant to be less hifalutin because the execution of the concept is so flawed.
The flaws have nothing to do with the performances or the truly wonderful cinematography but more to imaginative overload. It is almost as if Caro has tried to make five films in one and grasped every opportunity to inject more meaning into what might have been more successful as a slim story with poetic overtones. Its intentions go far beyond those of another sci-fi misfire like Sunshine which ended itself in confusion and vaguery, but actually that film was more successful because it was far less crowded in its exposition.
82 minutes to check Greek, Christian and Roman myth, the question of faith versus science, the nature of man and the quest for belief is simply too much, and once the relatively straightforward layer of narrative ends, the film has five more minutes of montage and metaphor which complicate matters beyond comprehension. Rather than be a beautifully imagined, well acted tale of humans on the precipice of their nature, Dante 01 succumbs to meaningless overload.
As distinctive a sci-fi film as you may see this year and far exceeding the lacklustre Eden Log, my criticism of Dante 01 is partly motivated by my high hopes for it. I can't say its too long and not impressive, but it could have been a lot better with surer handling of meaning or a simpler presentation of its story.
Momentum release Caro's film on a dual layer disc possessing a trailer and making of featurette as the extras. The disc starts with trailers for recent French cinema releases from the label such as Eden Log, Chrysalis and Paris Lockdown. The main feature comes with a transfer at the original aspect ratio and the quality of the video is very good indeed. Razor sharp, detailed and with superb contrast, colours are vibrant and accurate and there is nothing to criticise in terms of the look of the disc
The sound comes in a 5.1 mix which manages ambience and atmosphere well and the clearness of the audio is full and with exceptional detail. It is a perfect accompaniement to some of the first person visuals and will allow the viewer to get lost in the film. The optional English subs are sensitive to the action and faithful translations, easy to read and never distracting.
The featurette is directed by an Eric Caro, I wonder how he got that gig, and interviews the cast and crew. Lambert Wilson is shown losing his hair, we learn that the project originated from a Jodorowsky idea and see the actors often filming themselves using harness cameras. It's definitely more interesting than your average extra and dvd fluff, even if Caro appears annoyingly oblique. The trailer for the film carries optional English subs as well.
Great ability and production amounts to an interesting headscratcher, but it could have been a lot better. This release is available very cheap and comes with a lovely transfer.