| Kofi Annan with wife Nancy at the special screening. Picture by Jay Mandal
United Nations, April 20 (Reuters): In the first-ever film shot at the UN, 17 people get killed in a bus bombing, another is slain in the house of peace itself and a white woman tries to kill a black dictator because she thinks the international justice system is not tough enough.
But UN officials believe Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter, with Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, can do for the world body what deadpan diplomats cannot: spice it up, make it cool and attract even more tourists.
'We felt it was going to get a lot of people into the movie theatres to see things about the UN, who would not otherwise have paid much attention to this organisation,' said UN spokesperson Shashi Tharoor, who helped get secretary-general Kofi Annan to agree to the filming. 'The basic story of The Interpreter seems to me to showcase the values that this institution stands for,' he said of the movie that opened the Tribeca Film Festival yesterday.
The UN has a long history of refusing to allow the building to be used for commercial purposes. It turned down Alfred Hitchcock's request to film in the delegates' lounge for the 1959 North by Northwest. Pollack not only filmed the lounge, but the General Assembly, the Security Council, the carpeted corridors, the seedy back rooms and the garden.
Yet, despite Kidman's character talking of the power of words over guns, guns are a large part of the fast-paced film.
Kidman plays an interpreter from a volatile fictional African country who overhears an assassination plot against her country's leader, who is about to address the General Assembly, and becomes a target herself. Penn plays a secret service agent suspicious of her claims.
There is a big bomb blast on a Brooklyn bus, slashed wrists in the Chelsea Hotel, and a killing on UN premises, not to mention ethnic cleansing and political oppression in a fictional African country.
And Kidman puts a gun to a tyrant's head shortly before the Security Council sends him to the International Criminal Court, a tribunal the US in real life abhors. 'I am enormously sympathetic to the United Nations,' said Oscar-winning director Pollack. 'But I know better than to try to spend $80 million to make a propaganda film. It's boring.'
Kidman's character speaks 'Ku,' a mock language based on Swahili and Shona, and works at the UN as a French-English interpreter.
'I had to make sure the text she was going to read was correct French,' said chief UN interpreter Brigitte Andreassier-Pearl, who served as a consultant to Pollack. Andreassier-Pearl described Kidman as 'a terrific actress' who gets it the first time.
Her scarf and watch are incorporated into Kidman's persona and Andreassier-Pearl fielded many questions on where the interpreters eat and what they wear.
Dress, she told them, is casual. 'It's not not the corporate world. You don't come in jeans either.' But she was more amused by the fake red-and-white UN pass Kidman wore because 'it really looked like mine'.
It was Andreassier-Pearl's tour of the back steps to find the 'scariest place she knew' that provided the backdrop for a killing. And her tour of the staff lockers figures in another scene. 'When they saw the row of lockers, they were just in awe.' And they were 'very intrigued by our phone booths. They are quite antiquated,' she said.'
But she said she was puzzled that Kidman's character drove to work on a scooter. 'No one comes to work on a Vespa in New York,' she said.
'When I asked, I was told 'It's fiction!'