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Edinburgh '09: Antichrist and Antipasto Giallo at Auld Reekie

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Daryl Pittman/S&Z Productions

The Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009 ended with the news that ticket sales were up on the previous year, proving that the move from August to June was helping the festival carve out a new mid-year identity as the organizers intended. The move has also clearly raised the event's appeal to mainstream distributors arranging their summer schedules, with many of the big-ticket items using Edinburgh as a springboard for a wide release shortly after the festival closes. Whether this is putting the squeeze on the number of smaller and quirkier films here will be a point worth watching.

On the other hand, four of the seven feature film awards went to first-time directors. One of them was Duncan Jones, whose "Moon" added the Michael Powell Award for best new British feature to its résumé and gathered more critical plaudits. The other big domestic winner was Katie Jarvis, star of Andrea Arnold's "Fish Tank," who picked up the PPG Award for best performance in a British feature and will undoubtedly have to find room in her house for others as the film gains momentum.

The EIFF also pulled off a coup by announcing a screening of "Antichrist," along with the attendance (briefly) of Willem Dafoe, Lars von Trier and Anthony Dod Mantle. Cannily, the announcement was made just before the festival opened, ensuring that the word "clitoridectomy" would then crop up wherever three or more festival goers were gathered together for the next ten days. And it screened uncut, to the suitable chagrin of those who confidently predicted otherwise. Such as me.

As well as quality time in Iraq with "The Hurt Locker's" bomb-disposal team, Los Angeles's beautiful idiots in "Spread" and the glorious noir cityscape of "The Missing Person," this year's festival took me to a few other interesting destinations.

Jamaica: When Sean Connery invites you to a private screening of "Dr. No" in his old Edinburgh neighborhood, you don't refuse. True, he also invited a few dozen other people for a fundraiser – and when the checkbooks came out, your correspondent remembered he had another film to go to – but the digitally-restored movie is still worth the effort. The youthful Mr. Connery is a hormonal hurricane, all tattoos and brawn and the not-so-hidden threat of the rough stuff. Plus there was Ursula Andress being caressed by the surf on the biggest screen in town, a reminder that cheesecake wasn’t supposed to be a dirty word.

England: James Bond's Pax Britannica seems a thousand centuries ago compared to the nation being dissected in "Fish Tank" and, more effectively, in Lindy Heymann's "Kicks." Tackling head-on the aspirations of two young girls in a celebrity-obsessed culture without condescension or demeaning their values, "Kicks" features two leads with real physical chemistry: one look at Kerrie Hayes and Nichola Burley keeping up with each other in unsuitable shoes, and you know exactly what their characters' bond is. Nicely written too: "I'm thinking of a boob job," says one. "I'm thinking of a brain job," says her friend. Hugely assured filmmaking by all involved.

Italy: No film at Edinburgh produced more consistent laughter than "Giallo," which had audiences rolling in the aisles. Sadly this is Dario Argento's new horror film, so things have gone badly awry. Mr. Argento’s grasp of light and color is still strong, but "Giallo" is inadvertently towed out to sea and scuttled by Adrien Brody, acting as if he'd wandered in from the film being shot next door. Mr. Argento is starting to suggest in interviews that "Giallo" has suffered at the hands of its producers, but the third-party script may already have been the wrong kind of pastiche. A deformed killer with hepatitis torturing beautiful women was always going to risk causing a giggle, but there's a moment here which is exactly what you would have got if the film had been made by the Zucker brothers. You'll know it when you see it.

Canada: "Pontypool" starts with an oscilloscope trace of the human voice for an authentic "Twilight Zone" feel, and builds into a slick science-fiction chamber piece that surely has cult status to look forward to. It helps that the central notion of a virus spread in a very particular way is well suited to the movie screen, maybe even better than in the story's original form as a novel. But it's really all down to the three main performances: Stephen McHattie grabs the part of besieged talk-radio D.J. Grant Mazzy like a man who knew a golden ticket when he saw it, but Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly, respectively as Mazzy's producer and engineer, are both great as well. Stay through the credits to see director Bruce McDonald turn the whole thing into a love letter to old-movie dialogue, and tell me you didn't leave smiling.

The Dungeon of Eden, 1-888-SPANK-HOUSE: The only performer here able to go toe to toe with 007 on physical presence and sex appeal turned out to have about 20 lines in her own movie. Zach Clark's "Modern Love Is Automatic" follows two roommates, Lorraine (Melodie Sisk) and Adrian (Maggie Ross), through a bunch of alternately awkward, scary and empowering encounters in a town Russ Meyer and Douglas Sirk would both recognize. But it really lives in a stylized, sad, colorful and kinky zone all its own. Both leads are terrific and every cameo hits the mark, but it's Ms. Sisk you'll be thinking about in the small hours of the morning. Tall, curvy and deadpan, Ms. Sisk is a blast even before she climbs into a catsuit and starts whipping the punters into shape; once she does she’s just in orbit. The film features her four-minute faltering karaoke of New Order's "Age of Consent," in which a whole cascade of emotions pass under the skin of this conflicted character in a single shot. They should really give her the acting awards now to save time.

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