Screamfest 10/12/08: Dante 01 (France – 2008) / Fun On Earth (2008)
Dante 01 by director Marc Caro (City of Lost Children) feels like 3 much better films slammed into one jumbled mess. Prisoner Saint George (Lambert Wilson, The Matrix’s Merovingian) is ushered onto a prison ship orbiting the star “Dante 01” aka “Hell”. Followed soon after by Elisa (Linh Dan Pham) a corporate biologist with plans to turn the prison ship into her own personal testing ground. St. John exhibits healing powers, and soon his fellow prisoners are emboldened by quickly spreading messiah rumors and try to stage an escape. Meanwhile the Warden and Doctors that run the ship start to suspect Elisa is responsible for sabotage and conflicts break out. There is also a prisoner with clearance to warden’s secret files, and the ship may or may not be slowly falling into the star it orbits.
These proceedings are all lathered with a heavy handed pseudo-religious overtones:
There are 12 characters on the ship and the Prison ship itself is shaped as a crucifix, and has 3 rings (of hell) to it. But there is never any time to develop any of these ideas fully. A prison escape story set on an orbiting space station could be intriguing, the idea of the next coming of the “messiah” being sent off to a remote prison is a fascinating idea, even the prospect of the Prison staff constantly maneuvering to politically 1-up each other ( a sort of “Upstairs, Downstairs” in space) is exciting. But none of these ideas are developed satisfactorily.
Wilson as St. George gives an expressive and almost entirely silent performance as he stumbles around the ship healing the wounds and eating the souls (each time he heals someone he takes a glowing octopus out of their stomach and devours it bloodily – but its never clear what that object is) of his shipmates. Dan Pham is sexy and quietly sinister. Dominique Pinon (Amalie) is oily and slick as the inmate with enough savvy to control his fellow prisoners is convincing. But the film suffers as its protagonists, Gérald Laroche & Simona Maicanescu as the ship’s Warden and Head Doctor are flat and unsympathetic.
As one would expect from Caro, the man who brought us “City Of Lost Children” and “Delicatessen”, the film is technically superb. The set design, cinematography and sound design are all exquisite and a joy (a horrific joy maybe) to watch. But this isn’t enough, and the film lacks the wry humor that both of those films contained. The final climax, which comes about after a number of logic defying plot twists, is pretty but reeks of cheap CGI and to make it worse, the final shot is repeated no less than five times (from every angle you can think of).
Fans of Caro will enjoy this film, and there are certainly some interesting and unique images. But they aren’t enough to overcome the tedious convoluted storyline.
The feature was preceded by the Short film: “Fun On Earth” by Jesse Gordon. This is a cute romantic comedy in which an alien takes the form of a pretty college girl and tries to flirt with a nerdy guy off the swim team. She’s attracted to him and his skills, because her planet is made up entirely of water. Her efforts to woo him are constantly thwarted by her own unfamiliarity with her human body which seems to be on the verge of liquefying. Even walking is an effort for her. The film is offbeat and quirky and at 16 minutes doesn’t wear out its welcome. The Official Site has additional information about how to catch this little gem.