In Cannes for the world premiere of his new movie, David Lynch
decided to leave his shoelace untied. ''For good luck,'' he explained
obliquely. As if the American writer-director needed luck last week.
In the U.S. his soap opera Twin Peaks, an all-time oddity and cult
sensation on prime-time TV, lured millions of addicted viewers to
its season finale. ABC, the sponsoring network, announced that Twin Peaks
would return in the fall. To complete the hat trick, Lynch copped
theCannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or for Wild at Heart, his latest
affront to the cinematic status quo. Flanked by his radiant companion
Isabella Rossellini, awash in the fervent cheers and scattered
outraged hoots that will forever follow his film, Lynch smiled
innocently and declared, ''It's a true dream come true.''
Lynch's ''true dream'' upstaged the real-life dramas from Eastern
Europe that the festival had planned as a tribute to glasnost. The
40,000 film professionals who flock to the Riviera resort every year
were meeting for the first time since the convulsive changes in
Eastern Europe, South Africa and China. More than ever before, movies
were taking inspiration from headlines, and cinephiles heeded the
scenarios as if they were dispatches from the front lines, though
the messages may have been sent years or decades ago.
Suppressed since 1982, Ryszard Bugajski's Polish film The
Interrogation earned a best-actress prize for Krystyna Janda. She
plays a good-time gal who is arrested and undergoes torture at the
hands of the state, then bears the child of her inquisitor a
poignant metaphor for the human compromises required under a
totalitarian regime. Czech director Karel Kachyna's The Ear, made
in 1970 and just now released, is a stark, dark comedy depicting one
long night in the life of a bickering couple a Communist Party
functionary and his wife who find their house bugged by the man's
rivals. Corrosive in its vision of both domestic and political
double-dealing, The Ear plays like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
crossed with Franz Kafka. A new marital drama from China, Zhang
Yimou's Ju-Dou, begins as The Postman Always Rings Twice and ends
as The Bad Seed. Buoyed by the voluptuous beauty of its leading lady,
Gong Li, Ju-Dou was the most visually spectacular and dramatically
beguiling film in ! the competition, but owing to political reasons,
it remains unreleased in its homeland.
Because most films take at least 18 months to grow from proposed
project to finished product, it may take until Cannes 1991 to see
the fruits of freedom in East European cinema. But two of this year's
prizewinners, as determined by a jury headed by filmmaker Bernardo
Bertolucci, gave hints that the view will be just as bleak. Taxi
Blues, a Soviet-French production that copped the best- director
award for Pavel Longhine, was called the first ''post-perestroika''
movie. In this story about a Russian cabdriver and his wary
friendship with a Jewish jazz saxophonist, Moscow may as well be New
York or Paris a civilization in decay, where ennui is a wolf howl
and oblivion is the opium of the people.
Is anyone capable of making a tough moral decision and acting on
it? That is the question raised in Ken Loach's controversial British
film Hidden Agenda, which won the runner-up Jury Prize. Jim Allen's
screenplay, set in Northern Ireland, asserts that a whispering
conspiracy by right-wing Tories brought down both the Wilson and
Heath governments, paving the way for Thatcher and, almost as an
afterthought, making Ireland unsafe for the Irish. Alas, despite good
performances, the film plods not a good tactic if you hope to
rouse the rabble.
It does no service to old masters of the cinema to show their
latest, indifferent films, as Cannes did this year with Akira
Kurosawa's Dreams, Federico Fellini's The Voice of the Moon, Andrzej
Wajda's Korczak and Paolo and Vittorio Tavianis' Night Sun. Two
old-man films atoned for all these. Manuel de Oliveira has been
making movies for nearly 60 years, but his new work, No, or the
Vainglory of the Commander, is startlingly vigorous in its panoramic
denunciation of war a near great film from the Portuguese
director. Dirk Bogarde, now 69 but still the cinema's most elegant
actor, brought autumnal grace to Bertrand Tavernier's Daddy
Nostalgie, a lovely portrait of a dying man who can look back on his
life and say, without a drop of irony, ''I really envy me.''
All these films may be absolved for envying Wild at Heart. Once
it came on the scene, they never stood a chance against a big movie from
a hot American director rushed straight from the lab to Cannes.
Lynch, after all, was no longer just the director of the eccentric
hits Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. During the past six weeks, in the
U.S. and by reputation abroad, he had become famous as the
co-creator, with Mark Frost, of perhaps the most heralded show in
U.S. TV history. Set in a small town in the American Northwest, Twin
Peaks begins with the discovery of a corpse teen queen Laura
Palmer then lifts the rock of middle-class propriety to reveal
a town roiling with secret sins. Big deal; Peyton Place for the '90s.
But for Lynch, it was manner that mattered. The actors play in a
style that might be called over-the-top deadpan. The pace is
snail-like; but what a beautiful snail, motorized by images of
waterfalls and anguished faces.
Hip America was instantly fixated on Twin Peaks, and tout Cannes
was avid with anticipation as the countdown to Wild at Heart began.
Early in the festival, Lyncholepts had lined up to see new episodes
of Twin Peaks screened at the American Pavilion. A few U.S. critics
proudly brandished their foreign videocassettes of the show's pilot,
for which Lynch shot a tell-whodunit climax not aired in the States.
Europeans pummeled Americans for details of the series. Wild at Heart
may have had less at stake than the East European films, but by the
time it played toward the end of the festival, the whole movie world
And Lynch delivered. Wild at Heart is splendidly grotesque and
mammothly entertaining the director's first for-sure comedy, Blue
Velvet for laughs. The plot, from Barry Gifford's noirish novel, is
your standard slice of poisoned American pie: a pair of
loser-friendly lovers, Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula Pace
Fortune (Laura Dern), hit the road to escape Lula's mom and a phalanx
of psychos who vividly illustrate Lula's contention that the ''whole
world's wild at heart and weird on top.'' But the picture is packed
with so much deranged energy, so many bravura images, that it's hard
not to be seduced by the sick wonder of it all. One character puts
cockroaches in his underwear and breaks into sobs when told that
Christmas is still six months away. Heads get crushed, punctured and
blown sky-high; a dog trots past with a severed hand in its mouth.
Lula has the movie pegged when, at one typical moment, she exclaims,
''Lordy, what was that all about?''
Wild at Heart is about nothing, perhaps, except the power of
pictures to shock the nervous system so much so that the film may
be rated X in the U.S. It's about the fun that actors can have with
characters named Perdita Durango, Bobby Peru and Mr. Reindeer. It's
about obsessive imagery and compulsive behavior: almost everybody
chain-smokes, sometimes two cigarettes at a time. And aptly for a
film shown in the living movie museum of Cannes, Wild at Heart is
also Lynch's fond homage to The Wizard of Oz. Lula clicks her red
slippers to get out of a jam. Her mom, played with lubricious abandon
by Dern's own mother, Diane Ladd, is the Wicked Witch, all long
nails, daft cackles and unquenchable vengeance. Toward the end, a
good witch (Cheryl Lee, Twin Peaks' Laura Palmer) descends to earth
in a bubble, waves her silver wand and tells Sailor, ''Don't turn
away from love.'' Instead of Over the Rainbow, he croons Love Me
In the Wild at Heart press book, Lynch's biography reads, in its
entirety: ''Eagle Scout Missoula Montana.'' And at his Cannes press
conference, this ordinary-looking fellow with the buttoned-up collar
and the untied shoelace answered questions with the blissed-out
graciousness of an eagle scout from Mars. Told by one reporter that
his films are rife with graphic visions of violence, he stared
benignly and replied, ''I have even worse.'' Asked about the
similarities in cast and tone between Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart,
he said, ''The main thing they have in common is wood.'' Any more
questions? As Sailor says to Lula, so may moviegoers say of the new
king of Cannes, ''The way your head works is God's own private
mystery.'' But when the rest of the world gets to see Wild at Heart,
a lot of people will want to be let in on the secret.