Edinburgh Film Festival 2010: Day 1 (The Illusionist; Son of Babylon)

At about the time I entered the EIFF Press Office, and with punctilious timing, the sun hid away behind the clouds and Edinburgh was once more basked in its characteristic grey. The sun is a distraction at this festival, and given the fact I will be spending much of the next fortnight in darkened cinemas, I can do without it. So, I suggest, can Edinburgh. According to director Sylvain Chomet the light in Edinburgh and Scotland is almost unique €“ he compares it to Provence. This is the sort of light glimpsed in Local Hero €“ the type that seems to emerge from, rather than reflect off, the scenery. Chomet is the celebrated animator behind Belleville Rendezvous, a wonderfully weird, and weirdly wonderful, story of a determined cyclist and his grandmother. That film was shown at the festival in 2004 and Chomet was so taken with the city that he moved here. He has been trying to get his new film, The Illusionist, made pretty much since then... It is based on an unfilmed script by Jacques Tati, written in the late €™60s, with the bulk of the story transported from Czechoslovakia to Edinburgh. It was one of the movies I was awaiting eagerly from this year€™s programme, and I was not disappointed. I may be biased, but I€™ve always thought Edinburgh was underrepresented in the film world, and this movie redresses the balance: Edinburgh has never looked better in any medium, in any light. The Illusionist opens the festival tonight (Wednesday); guests at the public screening are to include Sir. Sean Connery and Sir. Patrick Stewart. The latter is head of this year€™s Jury, which also includes Mike Hodges and Britt Ekland. It is the perfect movie to open the festival, and its charms and almost complete lack of dialogue will make it accessible for all. I really struggle to imagine anyone not liking it. It was with a certain sense of duty that I made my way to my second movie, the Iraq-based Son of Babylon. Unlike most movies set in Iraq, this one was actually filmed there, and offers a sad look at the state of the country just a few weeks after Saddam was removed from power. Baghdad is a mess; Babylon, once home of one of the world€™s Seven Wonders, is now home to mass graves filled with the anonymous dead. The characters here are still recovering from the conflict with Kuwait, and their troubles keep piling up. They are not exactly filled with respect for their former leader: €˜I€™m off to say hello to Saddam!€™ says one, before scooting off for a pee. €˜Saddam is a bastard, and the Americans are pigs€™ he later adds. The film is a festival staple: beautifully shot, and slow. It is a bold movie, particularly given the risks taken just to film it, and it contains powerful moments. But I have to admit I did not ultimately find it a very powerful film. It is a movie that you want to, even feel obliged to, recommend but I felt my eyelids get heavy a few times. It is by no means an altogether bad movie: the central performances, of a young boy looking for his father and the stubborn grandmother who accompanies him, are strong and it€™s a though- provoking movie. But it did not really resonate with me on an emotional level, and there you are. The rest of the programme offers much to be excited about: there are new movies by Herzog and Soderbergh and performances from the likes of Kevin Kline and Bill Murray to look forward to. I chose Son of Babylon over World€™s Greatest Dad, the Robin Williams movie, on the basis that it came out in the US last year. For all I know I may have enjoyed the latter more, but the avid festival goer has an obligation to be a little more adventurous. At this stage it is impossible to say anything about the festival except that, with The Illusionist, it is off to a very good start.
We need more writers about Edinburgh Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival 2010, The Illusionist, Son of Babylon, Sylvain Chomet and Edinburgh 2010! Get started below...

Create Content and Get Paid


I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.