Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My not-so-secret shame: I was bored and disappointed by INLAND EMPIRE

Credentials first: I am a fan of David Lynch. I adored Twin Peaks; I watch all his films on a regular basis; I like that there is no spoon-feeding or hand-holding; I love the persistent sense of menace; the whimsical humour; the evocative use of music; the precise framing and visual motifs. So I approached the new Lynch movie, INLAND EMPIRE, with great anticipation. 3 hours in Lynch-world: thank you very much.

People who always hated Lynch for his obscurity, self-indulgence, surrealism.... will hate INLAND EMPIRE too. Conversely, hard-core LYNCH fans will not be disappointed. We have all the classic Lynchian symptoms here: weirdness, unease, horror, confusion, beauty of a sort, evil, brutal fucking murder, two dollar whores and some pretty heavy shit.

The movie opens with extreme close-ups of a young whore crying uncontrollably. Classic Lynch. We then move to a sitcom complete with canned laughter. Naturally the actors are dressed in bunny rabbit outfits and their conversation makes only enough sense to disturb us. We then switch to the key story. Laura Dern (BLUE VELVET) stars as an ageing Hollywood actress who has just been cast in a movie alongside Justin Theroux's (MULHOLLAND DRIVE) lecherous leading man by a camp director played by Jeremy Irons. (
ERAGON). This being Lynchworld, Harry Dean Stanton plays the director's bum side-kick.

Pretty heavy shit surrounds the production. On the eve of winning the part, the actress is accosted by her strange Polish neighbour who warns her (and the viewer) obliquely about the content of the script and the lack of a linear structure to what will follow. This scene is about as frightening as anything you'll see on screen and all the more impressive for being simply a series of extreme close-ups - shot on rubbish quality DV - of Grace Zabriskie (TWIN PEAKS). The sense of unease is increased by placing the actress (Laura Dern) in an oppressively decorated mansion and having her jealous husband leer over the balcony.

An hour into the film, and Laura's character is committing adultery and starting to see her identity dissolve into that of the character she is playing. Bad news, when you consider that the plot of the film does indeed involve brutal fucking murder and that a previous production of the same script was halted when a number of key people died. We follow her for the next two hours through a series of weird rooms-within-rooms behind the movie set and through the looking glass. She looks threatened and disturbed by these refractions of her psyche.

While I could see flashes of beauty and brilliance - not least in Laura Dern's career-defining and award-worthy performance - I was basically bored rigid by INLAND EMPIRE. Freed from the shackles of a pre-defined script and the kind of studio heat that comes with a production budget that allows for old fashioned photography, Lynch has indulged himself. The beauty of Lynch's photography is heavily compromised by the use of DV. While I can take my fair share of whimsy and treat much of Lynch's work as a sort of tone poem of beautiful brutality - this movie left me cold. I need not have structure and explanation - but if I am to float in a sea of random fragments, I'd like a shorter run-time. Call me superficial - but there are only so many scenes of Laura Dern looking threatened that I need to see.

INLAND EMPIRE played Venice 2006 and opened in the US and Slovakia in 2006. It opened in Italy, Belgium, France, Iran and Spain earlier this year and is now showing in the UK. It opens in the Netherlands, Portugal, Hapan, Finland, Germany and Poland in April and in Russia and the Czech Republic in July.

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