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From Potter to more serious stuff

Venice (Reuters): Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron leaves the adventures of young wizard Harry Potter behind him with his new film Children of Men, a bleak tale of an apocalyptic world in which humans can no longer have babies. The film, vying for the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, is set in 2027 in a futuristic London strewn with litter and besieged by illegal immigrants, Islamic militants and a cult-like covert group plotting an uprising. The world is in flames, heavily armed soldiers man the British capital like a fortress, refugees are herded into deportation camps and it has been nearly 19 years since the last baby was born. Against the backdrop of violence and despair a former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant African woman to a sanctuary at sea, where her child's birth may help save humankind from extinction.

Starring Michael Caine, Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, the film provides a very grim vision of a not-too-distant future, but is also meant as a wake up call to the world of today. ''Cuaron's intention was always to do a film that was about the big things that are concerning us now, jumping 20 years in advance and saying we'd better be careful because this could be the way we are heading,'' Owen, who plays the lead character, told Reuters in an interview. Part of the film was shot with a handheld camera as Cuaron, whose previous movies include ''Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'' and the critically acclaimed ''Y Tu Mama Tambien'', wanted the audience to feel as if they were part of the action.

''I think what looks bleak for us is everyday life for a lot of people,'' Cuaron said. ''Sometimes we forget that we live in a very comfortable bubble.'' In one of the most impressive and unsettlingly realistic sequences, London plunges into urban warfare and soldiers fight street battles with insurgents holed up in crumbling buildings. Cuaron said he did not have to look too far to imagine how that scene should look. ''Some of the concept artists when they started working on the film ... they were so disappointed because they undusted all these amazing science-fiction-like machines and cars and buildings and stuff,'' he said.

''Then I came with my own pile of stuff that I wanted to do and there were photos of Bosnia, Iraq, Palestine and Somalia.'' Owen, last seen in Spike Lee's ''Inside Man'', plays Theo, the former activist shaken out of a state of numbness by the pregnant immigrant who needs his help to flee to safety. ''I think he is literally in every scene and yet is the most reluctant lead character that I have ever come across,'' said the actor, a big fan of the ''highly original and super-talented'' Cuaron. The film is due for release in Britain later this month and in December in the United States.

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