Michael Gillespie files his first report from this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival by looking at three completely different films: The 99 Unbound, Sexual Chronicles of a French Family and Grabbers.
Having finally acquired my press pass and secured accommodation for two nights (providing taxi drivers could actually find it), it was already mid-afternoon before I finally settled down to my first film of EIFF 2012 (I say settled down, it was more of a clumsy drop into any available seat after rushing to Cineworld on the off chance that anything might be on).
Anyway, throwing my press bag down with an alarming clunk that reminded me that, yes, there was a rather heavy glass bottle in there (thankfully now in a refrigerator somewhere), the lights dimmed and so began The 99 Unbound. Directed by Dave Osborne (who worked on – nostalgia alert – Freddie as FRO7 and The Animals of Farthing Wood) and adapted from the comic strip by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, it’s essentially an 80-minute pilot for a Saturday morning cartoon series. The plot centres around a Kurt Cobain lookalike who is recruited into a team of superheroes powered individually by one of the 99 Noor stones, each representing one of the attributes of Allah. Steeped in Islamic history and philosophy, it’s a unique spin on an X-Men style adventure, but any real sense of individualism is lost in the translation to the screen (the property has been hugely controversial among American Islamophobes, but also praised by the likes of Barack Obama) and with mediocre production values and writing, it cannot live up to its ambitions. At heart, however, it has an interesting story and has an earnest, positive message which may have provoked unintentional laughter with the critics and industry types I watched it with, but we’re hardly the target audience, are we?
Decidedly less child-friendly was actor Jean-Marc Barr and Pascal Arnold’s Ronseal titled Sexual Chronicles of a French Family. After a stark opening, the film appears to be going down the well-trodden (and frankly interminable) quirky coming-of-age road, until our teenage hero is suspended for masturbating in biology class, and his petit bourgeois family decide to open up to him and each other about their sex lives. In case you were wondering, yes, this is the Frenchest film made in a very long time, consisting almost entirely as it does of philosophical chit chat and astonishingly extended scenes of coitus. While it plays with the semiotics of porn and seems genuinely interested in both exploring modern sexual mores (technology being central to this) and using depictions of sex to illustrate character, it also suffers from a double standard towards male nudity and a lack of dramatic development (occasionally threatened but never forthcoming). Still, in the end its lightness of touch and committed performances make it strangely uplifting, even if it does in the end feel like a Carry On film for the middle classes.
Less guilty fun was to be had in Grabbers, Jon Wright’s brash Irish monster mash screened late to a possibly inebriated audience (well, I’d had a couple) for maximum impact. It proved a winning strategy, the audience lapping up every minute of this funny, yucky romp. While it may be a throwback to the likes of The Evil Dead and Tremors, it’s also the most enjoyable Brit flick of this kind since Shaun of the Dead. The less you know of the plot going in the better, so I’ll say no more, except that I did once have a rather embarrassing chat with its lead, Richard Coyle, in a London pub, and made a swift exit from Filmhouse in case he recognised me as that guy who slagged off Coupling.