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VINCENZO NATALI: Cube

Vincenzo Natali, without a mathematical bone in his body, creates a mathematical world; he explains it all to PAUL FISCHER.

Canadian first-time director Vincenzo Natali is surprised at the response his debut film, the mathematically conjured semi-sci-fi thriller, Cube, is receiving. When we spoke, during the hectic Sundance Film Festival, this deft low budget film was already on the cusp of international success, having previously won the Best Canadian First Feature award at the previous Toronto Film Festival. Sundance was to be the film's next port of call, and Natali sees the value of such a frenetic festival.

"I was not expecting or anticipating any of this, because it is a science-fiction film, and wasn't certain how festival programmers would respond to that, because there's so much stigma attached to that genre." At the same time, it's not a Hollywood-style sci-fi film laden with special effects and gismos. "That's true - it diverges from the traditional mould of what people accept as science fiction."

"a pragmatic need to make a feature film as expediently as possible"

This low-budget science-fiction drama depicts the plight of a group of people clad in prison-style uniforms and trapped in futuristic cube-like metal cells. Their memories are hazy; no one can recall how they got there. Alderson (Julian Richings) awakens in a cell, seeks an exit, and arrives in an adjacent cube where he's sliced and diced. Former cop Quentin (Maurice Dean-Wint) becomes the group leader, and he's challenged by conspiracy theorist Dr. Holloway (Nicky Guadagni). Government worker Worth (David Hewlett) remembers a past government link to the project. A discovery that the cubes have numerical codes suggests study by math-student Leaven (Nicole deBoer) while prison-experienced thief Rennes (Wayne Robson) knows some escape tricks.However, the extreme behaviour of Kazan (Andrew Miller) becomes a threat to their survival.

The film's derivation, Natali says, "came from a pragmatic need to make a feature film as expediently as possible. I've wanted to make a film for some time, but never thought that anyone would give me money to do one. So I tried to come up with a concept that could be done in one set, and I knew it couldn't be anything like My Dinner with André, because I just don't think I have that kind of movie within me. It therefore occurred to me: what if I could reuse a set - to have one set double as many - and that's what led me to think of a maze of identical rooms. Once I had that idea, I just took off, because as a filmmaker, I love seeing in movies what I love doing, which is creating worlds and visiting a world that doesn't exist. And Cube is very much that - a whole environment that has its own rules."

While it is a science fiction thriller, its uniqueness in the genre, apart from its extraordinary set, is its well-defined collage of characters, which collectively symbolise humanity with all its foibles. Asked whether Natali is omnipresent within those characters, he laughingly quips that "I probably relate more to the cube than I do with any of the characters." He does add that he enjoys "discovering how each of these characters would respond to this nightmarish situation."

"I was totally fascinated with the idea of a world that is mathematical"

What is also interesting about Cube, is its mathematical tone; it seems to be as much about solving a mathematical problem as it does about escape. One would assume that Natali is a passionate mathematician. "I don't have a mathematical bone in my body, but I was totally fascinated with the idea of a world that is mathematical, and that is so abstract." Making the film, Natali says, "was a very liberating experience, because if anything, one of my strong influences are the surrealist painters and filmmakers like Bunuel and David Lynch, but for me I've reached a point where it was too easy. I wanted to create a surreal world that made logical sense, and that's what really excited me about this world."

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Still from Cube

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