February 13, 2006

Wachowskis Aim to Provoke with ‘Vendetta’ Film

By Mike Collett-White

BERLIN -- The good guy in the Wachowski brothers' latest cinematic adventure is a "terrorist" at war with the British government.

The masked crusader makes homemade bombs, which he plants on London's subway system, and condones violence 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 lurching to the political right under then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The anti-hero, 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.

But despite its references to the past, the narrative is set sometime in the near future and alludes to a period when wars have come back to haunt the United States, which has descended into chaos.

One character says "blowing up a building can change the world," while another is arrested for having a Koran hidden at 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 told Reuters at the Berlin Film Festival, where the film gets its world premiere late on Monday.

"It seems to be as relevant as it could be right now. I think that it's going to be very current and very topical and I think people will be intrigued by the material. I think it's the right time and the right place."


Vanity Fair magazine, which said the picture's release was delayed from November 5 last year due to the July suicide bombings in London, gushed about the film, calling 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 a rigid interpretation of their film. But a copy of the article was included in press packs handed out to reporters in Berlin.

The topic of terror 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 are designed to resemble the concentration camps of World War Two.

Despite references to the past and present, both Silver and first-time director James McTeigue were keen to put distance between the events in the film and those in the real world.

"It is a work of fiction. It is a piece of entertainment," McTeigue told Reuters.