Inland Empire

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Inland Empire
"Inland Empire is a difficult, often deliberately evasive film which certainly would not be recommended for the casual viewer, but for those who are prepared to make the effort it's extremely rewarding."

Look at this film and tell me if you've known it before.

Digital video has revolutionised the work of David Lynch. No longer limited to producing one film every four or five years, he's now putting something out on YouTube every other week. When he makes movies, he can do as many takes as he likes, costs being dramatically reduced, and this has only encouraged his habit of writing the actual scripts immediately before or even during filming, continually changing his mind, playing around with themes and adding multitudinous in-jokes. Inland Empire is very much a product of this.

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Closer in character to Lost Highway than to his more recent work, it is at once painfully obscure and packed full of revelatory expression. It's very much a middle episode, drawing on storylines from as far back as Eraserhead and pointedly looking forward to the currently-in-production Axxon N, which means that some of its sentences are effectively left unfinished, but that's not to say it's not worth watching now. It's a fascinating testament to Laura Dern's ability as an actress, an intriguing insight into her relationship with Lynch, and one of the angriest films about Hollywood made since, well, Mulholland Drive.

The opening of the film, featuring a delightfully intense turn from Grace Zabriskie as a mad old Polish neighbour, introduces us to Dern's primary character, Nikki Grace, an actress about to embark on a new role. This role in a film called On High in Blue Tomorrows which is itself based on an unfinished German film called 47. Part way through filming, after Grace's co-star has been warned by her jealous husband that he'll kill them both if he catches them having an affair like their characters do, the director reveals that the stars of 47 were themselves murdered.

At this point the narrative starts to break down as Grace, badly shaken, loses track of which of the people she is required to perform as is really her. What follows is a devastating attack on what Hollywood does to young actresses, much of it hinting heavily at Lynch's legendary obsession with the fate of Marilyn Monroe. In parallel we see the Polish prostitutes from the original film and the Los Angeles prostitutes all looking for bit parts in the movies; but this isn't simply another of Lynch's explorations of victimisation; Grace, who makes no bones about it, is ready to fight back. In doing so she delivers a warning to the industry which elucidates the other reason why Lynch is now working largely independently.

Inland Empire is a difficult, often deliberately evasive film which certainly would not be recommended for the casual viewer, but for those who are prepared to make the effort it's extremely rewarding. It is unashamedly a piece of art rather than simple entertainment and this actually makes it a lot less annoying than it could have been, with its continual transitioning between apparent realities. Cameras, screens and pierced silk act as portals between these perceived worlds but the story remains fluid, and the ability of a character to move through these different worlds, through these different identities, yet still remain herself is something new. Questions are asked about the pressure put on actors' sanity and are answered with further questions about the validity of dismissing insane perspectives. In combination with Dern's brutal performance this makes parts of the film quite harrowing, so it's not for the faint hearted.

Curiously, it's rather dry in places, hard to get close to emotionally, but it does enjoy its moments of absurdist humor. And you'll never dance The Locomotion the same way again.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2007
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Inland Empire packshot
A married actress falls for her leading man whilst making a film about an illicit affair.
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Read more Inland Empire reviews:

Stuart Crawford *****
Chris *****
Amber Wilkinson ****
Angus Wolfe Murray *1/2

Festivals:

Glasgow 2007

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