393) Dante 01 (2008) Dir: Marc Caro Date Released (DVD): April 2009 Date Seen: November 10, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5
Dante 01, French fantasist Marc Caro's first solo directorial endeavor, is both a small marvel and a very shaggy dog. Caro's film is the kind of quasi-theological science fiction that, like the scifi comics of the Humanoids, a collective of French artists lead by unhinged luminaries like Enki Bilal, Moebius and Alejandro Jodorowsky, excels at establishing an atmosphere of burgeoning speculative possibilities in an emotional and spatial vacuum. Caro deprives his viewer of a sense of narrative progress for the sake of creating a more abstract evolution of its subjects. Like the Humaoids' stories, Jodorowsky's in particular, Caro is more concerned with his characters as guinea pigs than as characters. They are symbols of man's frailties according to men that embrace worldviews fostered by fractious drug cultures and look at the world through the eyes of a "Head," a doped-up shaman that hallucinates about the world as if it were a tantric petri dish. Caro's story proclaims itself to be revolutionary in thought, making any faults in execution a casualty of transcendence.
Simultaneously aspiring and leaden in its execution and philosophy, Dante 01 begins with a garbled voice-over prologue muttered with all of the authority of an inmate of the intergalactic asylum the film takes place in. The voice tells us of the importance of stories about fire, fables that teach us that heroes have the ability to extinguish the flames of menacing dragons that represent our psychological traumas. In a space station, orbiting the planet Dante, is a mental hospital for the criminally insane. There, a mysterious new inmate (Lambert Wilson), nicknamed Saint Georges by a fellow crazy, will provide a cure for soul sickness that transcends all forms of known medicine, including traditional homeopathy and the radical new nano-technology that Elisa (Linh Dan Pham), a power-hungry young scientist, champions. Saint Georges can see a person's sickness, which in any given person looks like an enormous, parasitic chigger and takes it upon himself to heal everyone at the expense of his health and sanity. Like, whoa. It's the second coming, in deep space, no less.
Dante 01 however does not have the elasticity or the forcefulness to make good on its promise. Caro is no Jodorowsky and his work does not reflect the projected need and arcane knowledge that made the work of that great "Head" so readily rewatchable (Jodorowsky's El Topo remains a confounding, self-proclaimed tempest of mish-mashed images, genres and tones). Though some of the prisoners' and the scientists' backgrounds are mildly amusing, they're never developed beyond a very crude stage. Caro is more concerned with developing the thematic framework that structures the film's barren plot. He just floats off into his ideas and leaves us with a sumptuous but meaningless narrative. Something is going on here, as is best expressed in the film's staggering conclusion but what concrete reasons you have to care is, like, an eternal mystery, man.