February 15, 2006 – 3:15PM
Wachowskis out to provoke
US actress Natalie Portman poses with British actor John Hurt and Australian actor Hugo Weaving during a photocall to present their film V For Vendetta.
The good guy in the Wachowski brothers' latest cinematic adventure is a terrorist at war with the British government.
The masked crusader plants homemade bombs on London's subway system in pursuit of justice. The Orwellian authorities rule chiefly by fear.
With V for Vendetta, the scriptwriters who brought us The Matrix may be asking for trouble.
Starring a shaven-headed Natalie Portman as the foil to the mystery man known only as V, the film is based on a 1980s graphic novel warning readers about the danger of a lurch to the political right under then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The central character, played by Hugo Weaving, seeks to emulate the 17th Century Catholic rebel Guy Fawkes, who narrowly failed to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London on November 5, 1605, and was hanged for his troubles.
The narrative is set in a near future in which wars have reduced the United States to chaos.
One character says ''blowing up a building can change the world'', and another is arrested for hiding a Koran in his home.
The film's tagline is: ''People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.''
''There are hot-button issues that are dealt with in the story and that's good, that's fresh,'' producer Joel Silver saidat the Berlin Film Festival, where the film had its world premiere.
Portman said she hoped the movie would challenge people to question their assumptions.
''I think it's interesting for people to reconsider their thoughts about violence and how we categorise what's justified and what's unjustified,'' she said.
Vanity Fair magazine, which said the picture's release had been delayed from November 5 last year because of the July suicide bombings on London underground trains, called it ''spectacular and exhilarating'' and a return to ''movies as cultural sabotage''.
''You have a world teetering on the brink – apocalypse being the animating anxiety of the superhero genre,'' the left-leaning magazine wrote.
''Apocalypse is, too, less than coincidentally, the fortifying principle of the Bush administration.''
There was no sign of the reclusive Andy and Larry Wachowski in Berlin, and it was not clear if they would agree with such an interpretation of their film. But a copy of the article was included in press packs handed out to reporters in Berlin.
First-time director James McTeigue said he was aware that portraying attacks similar to those of recent bombings might not be universally popular.
''Yes, it has controversial subject matter,'' he said.
''I also think it's like a dialogue we have every day. The news media is filled every day with discussions of terrorism. I think it is only a matter of time before it leads into the arts.''
The topic of terrorism and its justification is not the only feature of Vendetta that may spark debate.
John Hurt, who plays the evil leader Sutler, is made to look and sound like Adolf Hitler, and images of biological experiments on human beings resemble the concentration camps of World War Two.
Meanwhile, Portman says she fulfilled a long-standing ambition by shaving her head for V for Vendetta – and attracted more attention than she's used to.
The movie is set in a future Britain run by a fascist dictatorship.
Portman's character, Evey, is saved from an attack by a masked anarchist known only as V, played by Weaving, and becomes a comrade in his struggle against the regime.
''I was really excited to get to shave my head – it's something I'd wanted to do for a while and now I had a good excuse,'' Portman, now with a full head of hair, told reporters.
''It was nice to shed that level of vanity for a girl.''
However, ''I wasn't used to being looked at so much,'' she said.
''Walking down the street, I can usually blend in, and people really stare at you when you're a girl with a shaved head.''
Weaving, meanwhile, faced the challenge of acting his part from behind a mask.
''It was hot and I felt there was a barrier between myself and other actors,'' he said.
''When you don't see an actor's face, it forces you to listen to what he has to say,'' added Weaving, who played the Matrix films' menacing Agent Smith.
''What was important to me was that the ideas came through.''