Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dante 01 (France, 2008)

When the titles of the modern French classics Delicatessen (1991 / trailer) and La cité des enfants perdus / The City of Lost Children (1995 / trailer) come up in conversation, the director that comes to mind is usually Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a man with a quirky, magical eye who has gained and maintained international attention and repute through the above two films and, respectively, the black comedy Alien: Resurrection (1997 / trailer), the two love stories Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001 / trailer) and Un long dimanche de fiançailles (2004 / trailer), and his latest exercise in free-form, phantasmagorical aesthetics and whimsy, Micmacs à tire-larigot (2009 / trailer). For the most part, it has long been forgotten that the first two films mentioned—Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children—are not solo directorial projects: both films were directed by Jeunet and another man, one Marc Caro. But unlike Jeunet, Caro has been relatively inactive in film and thus slipped into obscurity; since 1995 he has only made one short film, the sci-fi dildo fest Exercise in Steel (1998), and finally, in 2008, his first solo feature-length film, the sci-fi Dante 01. Despite the long pause between feature-length projects, Caro's initial two co-directorial turns were enough to put Dante 01 at the top of A Wasted Life's must-see list once the film was stumbled upon—regrettably, the must-see turned out to be a why-did-we-bother.
Co-scripted by Pierre Bordage, who also supplied the screenplay to the 2007 French sci-fi mental mindfuck Eden Log (2007 / trailer), Dante 01 is also a major mental mindfuck, if not a fuck-up, and as interesting as it is in parts on a visual level the film leaves behind highly dissatisfying aftertaste and feeling of dissatisfaction. The basic set up is intriguing if beyond believability even for a sci-fi film—what major corporation, no matter how rich or how unethical, is going to build a huge space-station nuthouse two years out into space for a total of seven inmates?—but once the plot gets going it seems to go nowhere before ending in a mythically religious manner that only the most drug-addled Pope could ever have contemplated, an ending that seems as rushed as it does forced despite all the possible clues that might maybe possibly perhaps sort of hint at the eventual destiny of the character called Saint Georges (a buff Lambert Wilson [of Catwoman (2004 / trailer), The Belly of an Architect (1987 / trailer) and Babylon A.D. (2008 / trailer)]). For awhile the film does keep the viewer intrigued, for the most part due to the excellent color scheme and captivating visuals, but about the time the nutcase hacker uses a primitive computer to hack into the main computer (visualized by those typically retarded computer graphic onscreen puzzles—this one complete with little alien heads interspaced in the squares—that appear only in films and never on real computers), the viewer has pretty much stopped contemplating what the filmmaker might be trying to say and, if not already asleep, is simply wondering when the film will end.
And end it does, in such a way that will raise jeers in even the most deeply sleeping viewer—both due to the sudden cheapness of the overall look of the final scene and due to the sledge-hammer religious symbolism. But then, the whole film bathes in sledge-hammer pretentiousness—the pubescent philosophical voiceover and mythology-derived names of the characters being two of the most glaring examples.

Two new inhabitants arrive at Dante 01, a galactic loony bin rotating around the molten planet of Dante: Elisa (Linh Dan Pham), the ethically dubious representative of the financing pharmaceutical firm and most attractive bald babe since Persis Khambatta in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979 / trailer), and an unnamed and unknown sole survivor found on an intergalactic ship full of dead people that is christened Saint Georges (after the tattoo on his shoulder) by the other prisoners. In no time at all the political stability within the two social subsets of the space station begins to fall apart as Elisa dethrones the head doctor Perséphone (Simona Maicanescu of Splice [2009 / trailer]) to do less-than-ethical medical experiments on the imprisoned “guinea pigs” involving nanotechnology and St. Georges inadvertently splits the prisoners into two camps by performing what must be called miracles, included that of bringing Moloch (François Hadji-Lazaro of Dellamorte Dellamore [1994 / trailer]) back from the dead. With incredible stupidity, the secret mechanisms of co-director Charon (Gérald Laroche of Maléfique [2002 / trailer]) unknowingly give Attila (Yann Collette of Immortel [2004 / trailer]), a psychotic computer genius, the chance to doom the space station, which he does by programming it to crash into Dante. Is there any hope left?
Dante 01 is a film full of platitudes sugar-coated with visual verve, but all the sheen in the world doesn't make junk food any more palatable. The plot gets lost in the symbolism, while the fine camera work and nifty visuals fail to make the story either all that comprehensible or interesting, much less give it direction. The final scene clarifies everything like a sledgehammer against the head, but the resolution only serves to make the film all the more disappointingly pretentious (not to mention to also make the painful and tragic death of César [Dominque Pinon of Diva (1981 / trailer), La lune dans le caniveau (1983 / short scene) and virtually any film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet] all the more unnecessary).
On the other hand, if you like Eden Log, you’ll probably like Dante 01, too.

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