When it comes to punishment, though, nothing takes the place of the classics. What served T.S. Eliot well enough also inspires director Sean Meredith in DANTE’S INFERNO (2007; Brattle March 23 at 7:30 pm, with Meredith). Updated in setting if charmingly retro in technique — a crude but effective Victorian cardboard puppet theater — Inferno remains faithful to the original while cleverly revising it for the present day. Here Dante finds himself in the middle of his life hung over and in despair, broke and with a non-functioning cellphone, passed out in an alley. Virgil emerges from the shadows with a mission to redeem him for the sake of the deceased and beloved Beatrice, and off they go into a 2-D hell of a distinctly 21st-century cast.
Dante himself had no qualms about settling political grudges in his epic, and Meredith also indulges in an agenda, though it’s not so easy to peg. Ronald Reagan and even a pre-mortem Dick Cheney figure among the damned, but so too does JFK (lust got him), and the religious right will be glad to know that there’s a special place in Hell for gays, at least in Meredith’s version. Although its slapstick sometimes overshadows its ingenuity, there’s enough of the divinely comic in this Inferno to justify a pair of sequels.
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