By Kirk Honeycutt
CANNES -- The David Lynch of "Blue Velvet" and "Twin Peaks," of dark mysteries that defy easy explanation and invite metaphysical speculation, is back in "Mulholland Drive." Shifting gears and changing direction as he navigates a serpentine route cluttered with seedy Hollywood archetypes, Lynch keeps you edgy from the opening shot to the last.
The film will also, no doubt, divide audiences and critics. But few will be able to resist its heady sense of intrigue and two riveting lead performances by Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring. Writer-director Lynch creates enough suspense moment to moment that the viewer is compelled to enter his hypnotic, disturbing netherworld of Los Angeles, a city of sun-blasted streets and dark places where the human soul can shrivel.
Mysteries hide within mysteries. Indeed there is even a mysterious blue key that figures in the plot and later a small box that, when opened by the key, reveals more head-spinners. Maybe some will come away with a sense of comprehension and resolution from a first viewing. But most must be content to let the images and slapstick violence wash over them and leave it to a second viewing to attempt a solution.
Lynch sets up several seemingly disconnected scenarios at the beginning. A beautiful woman (Harring) riding in a limo on Mulholland Drive one night suddenly has a gun turned on her by the driver. Moments later, a car full of drag-racing teens crashes into the limo. The woman survives. Dazed and bloodied, she stumbles down the hill and slips unseen into a '30s style apartment as the tenant, an older woman, is leaving for a long trip.
The next morning, a fresh-faced, young blonde (Watts) arrives at the airport with dreams of showbiz success tucked in her suitcase. She goes to the apartment, which belongs to her aunt, where she discovers the injured woman, who now suffers from amnesia.
Meanwhile, a film director (Justin Theroux) has the plug abruptly pulled on a film project when he refuses to cast a certain actress. He then arrives home to discover his wife in bed with a handyman.
Other characters lurk on the fringes -- an overly friendly elderly couple at the airport; two men in a coffee shop, who have an inexplicable encounter; Watts' landlady (the great Ann Miller), who tends to pry; and an assassin, whose hit on another criminal goes comically awry.
Each character makes a surprise re-appearance as the story grows more convoluted. Peter Deming's camera prowls through dark quiet rooms -- this is an exceedingly quiet movie -- that fill you with dread at what may lie in wait behind each corner. Similarly, every gesture is loaded with portent and suspense.
About two-thirds of the way through, Lynch turns the story upside down with the two actresses playing either different characters or, perhaps, their real personalities. Their two performances are so remarkable -- so multi-faceted and contradictory -- you can overlook the fact that many of the male roles are cast with curiously stiff actors.
The attraction the two women gradually feel for each other turns "Mulholland Drive" into something of an ill-fated love story, one filled with passion, jealousy and manipulation. But then the story does take place in L.A., so what do you expect?
Mulholland Drive | David Lynch main page
© Mike Hartmann