Dante 01 (2008)
By: CJ on November 12, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Momentum (UK). Region 2, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). French DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 82 minutes
The Movie
Director: Marc Caro
Starring: Lambert Wilson, Linh Dan Pham, Dominique Pinon, Yann Collette, Bruno Lochet
Screenplay: Marc Caro, Pierre Bordage
Country: France
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Up until recently, France was not known for its genre movies, French cinema more often going the arthouse route – such as with Godard and the 'New Wave' directors. The only real note in French horror history was Jean Rollin – and even his films were arty exercises in horror, going more for mood and atmosphere than outright horror. Then surprisingly, seemingly out of nowhere, France became the new home of horror, which was mostly precipitated by the arrival of Haute Tension (aka Switchblade Romance) from director Alexandre Aja . Haute Tension set tongues wagging and heralded a new wave of horror – this time from Euro shores. Since then we've had a slew of French shockers, including Them, Inside, Frontier(s) and Martyrs. So it was with some eagerness I approached this French sci-fi movie, hoping for at least something innovative and original, if maybe something a little less strong in terms of horror content. I really had no idea what to expect and so entered in with a completely open mind.

The story tells of a remote space station, Dante 01, which is used as an experimental psychiatric testing centre. Housed here are the worst of the criminally insane who have also unwittingly signed a contract that includes a clause agreeing to experimental treatments. A shuttle arrives, bringing with it a new psychiatrist and a new male for the inmates. The new male is an unknown quantity, however, and seems unable to speak coherently – and the inmates give him the name 'Saint George'. George also seems to have supernatural powers of healing and self-resurrection. However, when the new psychiatrist reveals her true purpose, to experiment on the inmates with nanotechnology, things begin to go awry – and George turns out to be far more than any of them ever bargained for.

It's an incredibly unusual movie - one that relies heavily on visuals and is at times almost psychedelic and disorientating. This is far from a conventional sci-fi movie and is quite a challenging cinematic work. But is it any good? To be honest, I'm still undecided – I think it may warrant a re-watch before making a final judgment call on that. However, it was reasonably engaging and it was unique in its visual metaphors of neo-Christianity (when you see the closing shots, you'll understand what I mean) and other religious symbolism. The thing that puzzles me most is that I left the film feeling as if it was something of a pointless exercise. It wasn't what I would call entertainment and yet it wasn't quite clever or challenging enough to be classed as an intellectual 'arthouse' film either. It seemed to fall somewhere in between and it felt as if the filmmakers weren't entirely sure what kind of film they were trying to make and so it seems a bit of an incoherent mess at times. It's intriguing enough to keep you watching but I felt somewhat dissatisfied by the experience at the culmination of the movie – it seemed almost too abstract and vague for its own good. It left too many open ends and too many unanswered questions – not that that's necessarily always a bad thing, but it just didn't work here. It's the kind of film that needed to tie up loose ends, I felt.

The performances by the cast are uniformly good and Marc Caro directs capably. The script could maybe have done with being a bit more explanatory, as I've already said. Then again, it may have worked better in written form and it just didn't translate well on to the screen. I did like the nanotechnology angle though, that's something you don't see addressed in film very often and there were some interesting themes – death, rebirth, damnation, salvation, faith versus science. Familiar themes in many films, so the viewer might click with those strands; but for the most part it just seemed a rather dull exercise in arty filmmaking.
The UK disc from Momentum presents the film anamorphically at 2.35:1 and looks stunning. The cinematography looks wonderful and the image is sharp and colourful. Blacks are consistent and the colours pop off the screen – Momentum have done a superb job with the visual presentation. This is a new film, so you'd expect no less, really. There's absolutely nothing in the visual presentation to criticise. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc so you know there's no skimping on bitrate.
The movie comes with its original French 5.1 mix with clear and easy-to-read English subtitles. The audio mix is pretty all-encompassing with lots of ambience and making full use of the surround soundscape. The audio is very involving and really does manage to create an air of tension and unease. The audio is probably the best part of the movie, in fact!
Extra Features
Included on the Momentum disc is a theatrical trailer and a behind-the-scenes featurette, where, interestingly, we learn that the film originated from Jodorowsky (and I would have been curious to have seen him bring this project to fruition). It's an informative watch and we get to see lots of what went on behind, as well as in front of the camera. It's a nice addition and adds value to the package.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A brave attempt by Caro to bring something new to the sci-fi table, but ultimately it fails. It's a little too abstract for the casual viewer but not profound enough for the intellectual film buff – so it's all a bit of a non-starter, really. I would, however, encourage you to see it for yourself and make up your own mind. You might just like it, you never know. For me, though, I didn't find myself overly impressed.

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