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'Inland Empire' -- Just Don't Expect to See the 91

By HELENE BLATTER, The Press-Enterprise, 10:00 PM PDT on Saturday, September 2, 2006

WEDNESDAY DEBUT: Those who have seen and been in the quirky flick aren't sure what to make of it.

On Wednesday, avant-garde director David Lynch will debut his latest film, "Inland Empire," at the Venice Film Festival, catapulting the region -- for better or worse -- onto the international stage.

Lynch, who is best known for his critically acclaimed and surreal TV series "Twin Peaks," has been working on his latest film for more than two years, but the few facts that have come out regarding its content are cryptic -- typical for the director.

Mary Sweeney, Lynch's longtime collaborator, said the director was busy preparing for the film's debut in Italy and was unavailable for comment. In May, Lynch told Variety: "It's about a woman in trouble, and it's a mystery, and that's all I want to say about it."

In the Variety article, the Inland Empire of Lynch's film, which he prefers spelled out in capital letters as INLAND EMPIRE, is explained as "the bleak residential area on the edge of the desert in L.A." (the reporter's description, not Lynch's). But whether that harsh take on the region will manifest on the silver screen is unclear.

Sheri Davis, of the Inland Empire Film Commission, said Lynch did not request permits to film in the area, a process required for filming at both public and private locations. In fact, much of "Inland Empire" was filmed in Lodz, Poland, according to Variety and the film database,

Richard Peņa, programming director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which runs the New York Film Festival, is one of the few who have seen the film. He describes it as a plotless collection of snippets that explore themes Lynch has been working on for years.

"You couldn't tell somebody it's a movie about..." Peņa said.

According to Peņa, the film includes a Hollywood story about a young actress who gets a part in a film that might be cursed; a story about the smuggling of women from Eastern Europe; and an abstract story about a family of people with rabbit heads sitting around in a living room.

In the listings for the New York Film Festival, where the film will make its U.S. debut on Oct. 8, the film is described as "a mesmerizing surge through countless looking glasses that lands us on the far side of the land of nightmares."

Huh? No mention of the Mission Inn, Palm Springs or California Speedway?

Peņa, who gave the film high praise for its experimental style, said he wasn't familiar with the Inland Empire but confirmed that the film is set in Southern California.

It remains unknown why Lynch chose to make a film named after this area. However, his 90-year-old father lives in Riverside.

Peņa said he believes Lynch uses "Inland Empire" as a double entendre, referring to both Southern California and the self-conscious, or the "inland empire" of the mind.

Roger Moore, film critic for the Orlando Sentinel, said that in a broad sense, Lynch's projects, such as "Mulholland Dr." and "Twin Peaks," are often inspired by the names of cities or the places in which they're set.

"But often they don't have anything to do with the location at all," he said. "(Lynch) doesn't let the actual geography of the place interfere with his vision."

Some of the secrecy behind "Inland Empire," which stars Lynch favorite Laura Dern as well as Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton and Justin Theroux, stems from Lynch's filmmaking process. According to news reports, Lynch began filming without a script, writing each scene the day before the shoot.

In an interview with Village Voice last August, Theroux spoke candidly about the making of the movie.

"You're so used to directors who have a clear idea what they want, but with David, you have to be flexible enough to trust him," he said. "I couldn't possibly tell you what the film's about, and at this point I don't know that he could. It's become sort of a pastime -- Laura (Dern) and I sit around on set trying to figure out what's going on."

Speaking to the publication Healthy Wealthy -nWise about his interest in transcendental meditation, Lynch confirmed his approach to the film.

"I've never worked on a project this way before," he said. "I don't know exactly how this will unfold."

At the Venice Film Festival, Lynch will receive the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.

A date for wide release of "Inland Empire" has not been announced.

Reach Helene Blatter at 951-368-9667 or

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© Mike Hartmann