Sunday, December 17, 2006

Inland Empire (2006)

Picking up again, I'll review the film I saw last night, David Lynch's newest.

This film is a sequel of sorts to Lynch's last movie, the glorious Mulholland Drive, in that both movies are about the mental breakdown of an actress and the spiritually corrupting powers of Hollywood - or as Lynch says here in Inland Empire's tagline, 'a woman in trouble'. Laura Dern stars, most often as an actress by the name of Nikki Grace, who embarks on an odyssey into a Lynchian nightworld, alongside Lynch regulars Grace Zabriskie, Harry Dean Stanton, Diane Ladd, and Justin Theroux, plus Jeremy Irons, Julia Ormond, Mary Steenburgen, and several Poles (the movie was partially shot in Lodz, Poland) most notably Karolina Gruszka.
It 1986, Roger Ebert panned Blue Velvet primarily because of his reaction to the portrayal Isabella Rossellini's character, which he considered to be misogynistic. There is a sliver of truth of Ebert's criticism in that film, but it has been supplanted by an increasing sense of empathy for the women in Lynch's films ever since; the young women of Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, most notably. Here we have what could be called Lynch's City of Women, an array of actresses, housewives, and prostitutes rendered charmingly, sweetly, empathically by Lynch's probing camera. This sense finds its consummation in a cluster of scenes that serve as the emotional heart of the film, when Dern's character (or one of them), poor and beaten-up, explains the hardships of her life to a blank-faced man in a grungy little office. It's an apotheosis of White-Trash cinema, an Oprah confession turned into a scene from a Dreyer film, and Dern knocks it out of the park.
Of course, a Lynch film wouldn't be a Lynch film if it wasn't also funny and weird. The capper in this film occurs when Dern gets stabbed with a screwdriver and staggers through the streets of Hollywood until collapsing next to a chatty cluster of homeless people. The dialogue that ensues ("You dyin', girl.") is classic Lynch, the homeless people talking about bus schedules, broken only when Dern summons the strength to vomit some blood onto the sidewalk. In scenes like this, Lynch brings his nightmares to life.
The most notable break between this film and his previous work is the use of consumer-level DV instead of film. The effect is a tradeoff, losing the typically lustrous cinematography of every previous Lynch film, but gaining a sense of ugly rawness, as if watching a home video of the mind, that suits the film's purpose and its critique of Hollywood facades.