Edinburgh Festival: A black look at the family sitcom

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The Independent Culture
IF ONLY all early evenings were like this. Modelled on that most smugly bourgeois of entertainments, the TV sitcom, Francis Ozon's sunnily- shot domestic melodrama proceeds to plant a stick of sexually subversive dynamite under the nuclear family, and watch it explode into an outrageous round of homosexuality, incest and S&M.

The film opens with a red velvet curtain drawn aside to reveal an idyllic suburban home.

Inside, the household are gathered to celebrate Dad's birthday but the sound of cheery singing is interrupted by shooting as the birthday boy snuffs out his extended family like candles on the cake, before turning the gun on himself.

Rewinding a few months, Ozon describes the bizarre event leading up to this massacre, which all begin with the arrival of a cage containing a white pet rat.

As each member of the household slipped the catch to play with the rodent, a Pandora's pet shop of dark desires are unleashed.

First the studious young son, Nicolas, announces that he is gay, then daughter Sophie sleep walks her way into an unsuccessful suicide attempt which leaves her as a wheelchair-bound paraplegic.

Before you can say "daytime soap"' Nicolas is losing his virginity to the maid's husband and hosting orgies in his bedroom, while bitter dominatrix Sophie leads her leatherbound boyfriend around on a leash.

With a nuclear family meltdown fast approaching, Stepford mum Helene blithely continues with her usual routine of aerobics and psycho analysis, while stern patriarch Jean hides behind his newspaper and a string of meaningless platitudes.

Absurd, excessive and wildly iconoclastic, Ozon's genre-spoofing black farce offers a glossy, Gallic spin on John Waters.

Bringing a distinctly queer sensibility to his subject, Ozon sends up contemporary "issue drama" with a wicked, manic energy.

And if his taboo-breaking tactics run out of steam somewhere before the film's conclusion, he still deserves credit for creating that rare thing: a funny French sex comedy.

Sitcom shows at Cameo 1 this Friday 0131 228 4141