Dante's Inferno

01/25/2023 08:25

Film: Dante’s Inferno (L’Inferno)

Year: 1911

Director: Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan and Giuseppe de Liguoro

Writer: Dante Alighieri

Starring: Salvatore Papa, Arturo Pirovano and Giuseppe de Liguoro



This is a movie that I checked out due to it being the highest rated or most popular Italian horror film on Letterboxd that I hadn’t seen. This might mark the oldest film that I’ve reviewed as well. Other than that, I knew this was an early into cinema take on the classic poem from Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy. That is a title that always struck me by the way.

Synopsis: loosely adapted from Dante’s Divine Comedy and inspired by the illustrations of Gustav Dore.

Now I feel that this is going to be a short review. This silent film follows Dante Alighieri (Salvatore Papa) as he has what I’m guessing is a dream. Dante starts in a woods where he is lost. He heads for a mountain and ascends. His path is blocked by three animals. There is a panther that stands for avarice. A lion for pride and a she-wolf for lust. An angel by the name of Beatrice asks Virgil (Arturo Pirovano) to guide Dante. He directs him to the portal that takes him to hell.

From there, they the different circles and those that are kept there. Charon the ferryman takes him over the river, Acheron. The first place is limbo of people who were either cast out of Heaven or died before Christian started. These are the also the unbaptized. The likes of Homer, Horace, Ovid and Lucernes are kept here as they live without hope prior to Christ. There is also a king here who passes judgement. He does allow poets to pass.

It is from here they than go on their journey to the center circle. It is there they find the frozen level as well as Lucifer (Augusto Milla) who feeds on damned souls as punishment. These are also those that committed the most heinous sin according to the bible. Dante will then need to find his way out before it is too late.

I think that should give a solid recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start here is that I’ve never read this work. I don’t know if I’ve read anything from Dante, but he’s someone I know. This would also mark the first time I have watched an adaptation of his work as well according to Letterboxd. What I will say though to close these opening thoughts is that he’s someone I do want to read as it intrigues me. I’m an atheist, but reading Christian mythology is something that I am interested in. This goes for things like Paradise Lost as well.

With that out of the way, I can see how this film as well as the source material influenced other things. Looking back, I’ve seen Jigoku, which comes from Japan and this borrows from it. That has someone journeying into hell, seeing the different punishments on the different levels and trying to get out with a loved one. This is a fascinating nightmare that Dante had. I’m guessing the book is following him as a character like we get here so I like that this adaptation has Dante as the lead. Something else that struck me is the movie The House That Jack Built. I didn’t realize how much that borrowed from this as Jack is telling his story to Virgil and has his own journey in hell as well.

What makes this stand out is the visuals. This is from 1911 and I give them credit for what they did. Seeing the different circles of hell as well as the punishments are fun. We get things like a circle where wind blows those around that are damned. There is a swamp where people are punished and people that have their heads buried in sand. The shining one though is giant Lucifer eating someone who is being punished. These are all done with in camera effects. Do they look great? No, but we are talking about a movie that is 110+ years old. I was impressed. The cinematography to go with this is good as well. I’ll also include that the version on YouTube I watched had a live score that fit what they needed. It added good atmosphere as well.

The last things to go into would be the acting. What is surprising is that this didn’t do the typical over the top performances you would expect. I think that Papa does a good job as Dante. He is shocked and in awe of the things he is seeing. Pirovano as Virgil is good as his guide. I want to give credit to Milla as Lucifer and the rest of the cast to be these damned people. It looks quite amazing with their performances and the settings for sure. There are so many extras which is impressive.

In conclusion, this was better than even I was expecting. The visuals that they bring to life from these drawings of someone’s interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy is great. It is impressive what they could do this long again with in camera tricks. The acting I think is good for what they needed and the soundtrack going with what I heard helped build the atmosphere as well. I did see there is a version out there with a Tangerine Dream score which might be the only way to make this better. If you are into the history of cinema and horror, I’d recommend giving this a viewing.


My Rating: 8 out of 10