Director Vincenzo Natali (below) is excited by paranoia. plots and epiphenomenon

pparently. Vincenzo Natali had an ‘epiphenoinenon'.

while watching Star Wars. After that. the young

Michigan-brim filmmaker wanted to make movies. and science fiction films in particular. The story goes that he and a childhood friend immediately began experimenting with a Super-8 camera. which resulted in Dark I'in‘i'r'. the yet-to-be-completed space opera in the George Lucas style. When I tell Natali that I read this in the production notes to his second professionally produced feature. the corporate intrigue sci-Ii thriller ('yp/ier. he laughs. 'I{piphenoinenon‘.’ I’d love to know who wrote that.‘

Natali is embarrassed by the mention of Dark I'in'cr' (Thankfully. that‘s something that has been lost in the sands of time‘ ). and although he says this is the first time he‘s ever uttered the word ‘epiphenomenon'. he agrees that Slur lliirs was his catalyst for making movies. Natali got his start in the business working as a storyboard artist for a television animation studio. where. among other projects. he worked on a cartoon version of Tim Burton's (irand (iuignol black comedy. Beetle/nice.

Around this time he made a couple of short films. which landed him a place on the director's residency programme at the (‘anadian Film (‘entre in Toronto. The move north was a good one. because a third short film. made at the Film Centre. led to his first feature. ('uln'.

A sado-masochistic sci-ft chiller. (‘iihe concems a group of people who are imprisoned in a giant ma/e. filled with deadly traps. The ingenious construction of the movie gave it cult status: prisoners move through a serious of identical square rooms searching for a way out. until the realisation that the rooms are constantly shifting about one another within the giant prison puts paid to their escape plan.

(‘uhe was made on a minuscule budget. Natali directed a cast of unknowns around just one set. a 20-foot square room with one wall missing to allow access for camera. lights and sound equipment. He says the process was intensely claustrophobic and quite exhausting. Cypher. with its larger budget (well. Sbm is large by independent cinema standards but still tiny in Hollywood terms). A-list cast (Jeremy Northam and Lucy Lin) and location work. was a very difi‘erent experience (though. nevertheless. another cult film in the making).

In the film. Northam plays an accountant named Morgan Sullivan who is hired by a corporation called Digicorp to become an industrial spy. Adopting a new identity. Sullivan is sent to a series of trade conventions to gather business


If you thought cerebral sci-fi cinema was dead, then think on. CYPHER director Vincenzo Natali reckons he’s making the artificial intelligent again. V/()t‘(lf;j Miles Fielder

secrets from competitors. Then an enigmatic woman named Rita (lint tells Sullivan he's being brainwashed by lligicorp and introduces the bewildered man to rival corporation. Sunways. for whom he subsequently becomes a double agent.

'('_v/i/Ier gave me the opportunity to e\pand my palate.’ says Natali. “This story is the opposite of (ii/u". every scene is in a new location. (‘v/i/ier e\cited me artistically and forced me to come tip with new ideas.' ('ertainly. ('v/i/n-r is an ideas film. With its constantly changing identities and ever increasing sense of paranoia. it plays like an adaptation ol‘a story by Philip K Dick.

('_\'/i/i('r isn‘t a l)ick adaptation. but the film's writer. newcomer Brian King. is a fan. "The kernel of liriaii's script is very simple bill the convolutions of the story are very comples.‘ says Natali. ‘So I filmed it in a certain way in order not to distract you from the convolutions of the story. In visualising the lilm I tried to create an external world that would be like the internal world of .\lorgan Sullivan. very formalistic. very e\pi'essioiiistic.'

The result of Natali and King‘s collaboration is .i cold. cerebral sci-ft movie. In this sense (\‘p/H’I' has far more in common with Stanley Kubrick‘s technically brilliant 7011/ than Lucas. soap operatic Slur llirry. According to the British \L‘l-ll \K'l‘llt‘l' lil'lttlt :\ltllss. .Slrll‘ lliII'y (titttl Splt'lltcl'g's (frivr' lilit'rHHIlr’l‘H changed the way sci-Ii lilins were made (iotte were the ideas. replaced since the late l‘)7(ls with mere spectacle.

Natali‘s film is based on ideas. Sure. there are thrills to be e\perienced in (‘v/i/ier and not a little nifty hitcch gadgetry

‘I saw it as being a James Bond movie by way of Kalkzif Natali says but the film's real pleasures are to be derived from its clever concept and labyrinthine plotting.

How ironic. then. that Natali. who took to lilmmaking after e\periencing an L‘plpllL‘IltlIIIL‘Ilt)Il watching Slur llit/‘y. should be making the kind of cerebral sci—Ii cinema we don‘t see much of anymore. Ironic. too. that when I talk to Natali he's drumming tip money for a big budget sci fi movie.

"Io make a tnovie for Shin you have to ask for a lot of favours. and nobody makes any money. l’eople l have worked with deserve payback. so I would like to make a film on a larger budget and then go back and do an indie movie. 'I'hat's why I’m in I..’\ right now.' Well. ()K. btit leave bur/s Imw lost in the sands of time. huh‘.’ We've had enough menacing phantoms and attacking clones to last a lifetime. We could do with more sci-ft cinema like ('v/i/ier. D

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