2.04.2007

INLAND EMPIRE Review

Roger Ebert's one-star review of Blue Velvet has never been forgotten by Lynch's die hard fans:
"Blue Velvet" is like the guy who drives you nuts by hinting at horrifying news and then saying, "Never mind." There's another thing. Rossellini is asked to do things in this film that require real nerve. In one scene, she's publicly embarrassed by being dumped naked on the lawn of the police detective. In others, she is asked to portray emotions that I imagine most actresses would rather not touch. She is degraded, slapped around, humiliated and undressed in front of the camera. And when you ask an actress to endure those experiences, you should keep your side of the bargain by putting her in an important film.

His review of Wild at Heart wasn't much kinder:
The violence aside, "Wild at Heart" also exercises the consistent streak of misogynism in Lynch's work. He has a particular knack for humiliating women in his films, and this time the primary target is Diane Ladd, as Mariette Fortune, the town seductress and vamp. The way this woman is photographed, the things she is given to do, and the dialogue she has to pronounce are equally painful to witness. Not even Hitchcock was ever this cruel to an actress. Laura Dern is Ladd's real-life daughter, and in the movie she, too, is subjected to the usual humiliations. Ever since I witnessed the humiliation of Isabella Rossellini in "Blue Velvet," I've wondered if there is an element in Lynch's art that goes beyond filmmaking; a personal factor in which he uses his power as a director to portray women in a particularly hurtful and offensive light.

That's why I have been anticipating his review of INLAND EMPIRE. How would he feel about Laura Dern's next collaboration with Lynch? Surprisingly, Ebert awarded INLAND EMPIRE with Four Stars:
Lynch knows all stories are all in our heads; we make them up and then inhabit them. "Inland Empire" plays with our movie-fed storytelling expectations line by line, shot by shot, scene by scene, even reel by reel (pay attention to those changeover marks in the upper right). He toys with the building blocks -- establishing shots, reaction shots, POV, and especially closeups -- to get us to look at them in unfamiliar ways. It's poetry: We recognize the individual units of meaning, but the grammar and syntax have been altered.

And "Inland Empire" is very much a movie about acting, built around a towering performance by Dern that is itself about giving (and watching) a towering performance. There's a moment, when Dern's distorted, clown-like face is actually projected onto someone else's head, which has got to be the ultimate actor's nightmare: "This is what I do: I make big, grotesque clown-faces to parrot human behavior." You'll want to scream; you probably will. Lynch has actively campaigned (with a cow, on Sunset Boulevard) for an Academy Award nomination for Dern, and for very good reasons. Not only is Dern mind-blowingly terrific, but a nomination itself would be a meta-expansion/continuation of "Inland Empire," and the performance(s) she gives in it.

"Inland Empire" opens and contracts in your imagination while you watch it -- and you're still watching it well after it's left the screen. It's a long but thoroughly absorbing three hours (perhaps necessary for a movie that continually readjusts perceptions of time), but I feel like it's not over yet. It's still playing in my head, like a downloaded compressed file that's expanding and installing itself in my brain. This David Lynch, he put his digital virus in me.

I couldn't have said it better. After watching this film, it has continued to decompress inside of my head. I have attempted to dissect and reconfigure the film analytically, but it refuses to be restructured linearly. And yet, it completely makes sense on a visceral level.

Here's the French trailer of INLAND EMPIRE. If it screens again in the state of Texas, I will be there. I have to see it again.

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