Sometimes home comes back to you.
Originally, I was gonna write about Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria. It seemed to be a fitting end to the week of coming home. In the wake of her mentor’s death, an aging actress returns to the play that made her famous by taking over the role of an older woman. But, the more I tried writing about it, the more I kept thinking about David Lynch’s Inland Empire. Despite the glaring style differences, these two films use many of the same elements to talk about the same thing: A Woman In Trouble.
In Inland Empire, an aging actress is plotting her comeback role in a film based upon a cursed screenplay. Soon, her life unravels as the plot of the movie-within-a-movie starts colliding with her real life, as reality shifts and people disappear out of the blue. Where Clouds of Sils Maria is strictly about tabloid culture, celebrity, the surreality of acting, aging, and the passing of torches, Inland Empire encompasses all that and more and less.
Beginning with Lost Highway, David Lynch’s films began taking on more fractured looping forms that folded into each other. Lost Highway has two people playing the same character in two realities that dovetails into itself in a Moebius-Strip fashion. Mulholland Dr. chips away at that structure, watching what happens when you splinter the connection between the two halves. Inland Empire takes a sledgehammer to plot construction and leaves the pieces haphazardly lying around for people to restructure based upon their own experiences.
The movie-within-a-movie On High In Blue Tomorrows was based on an old Polish script whose productions were constantly shut down for various reasons. This adaptation starts out as a Deep Southern-Fried romance but it eventually includes Polish prostitutes doing the Locomotion and screwdriver stabbings. Laura Dern’s Nikki, the aging actress, loses her self in the movie and the screenplay wondering if she is actually having an affair with the lead actor or if she’s imagining it, and what does that affair mean when she’s being paid for acting out a romance. In the midst of all this, a family with rabbit heads act as an absurdist Greek Chorus, telling you what will be happening in the most cryptic fashion available. Those looking for a strictly narrative experience would probably make more sense out of banging their head against a wall.
They say you can’t go back again, but sometimes you need to go back to make it through. In Clouds of Sils Maria, Juliette Binoche is in the process of clearing out her past to make it through to her future. Her mentor has died, she’s divorcing her husband, and she’s taking on the other main role in the play that made her famous. Similarly, Nikki has to go all the way back into a plot of old cryptic origins to make it through the other side. She has to find her lost girl inside the labyrinth of existence in order to move forward. Lynch uses a lot of imagery of being lost and looking through things, from looking through the windows of a set to being lost trying to get to Pomona, to seeing the world through a cigarette burn hold in silk. Maybe the only way forward is backward.
Currently, Inland Empire is out of print, and has been for several years. It was produced by David Lynch’s company Absurda, which has since ceased its online existence. This is still carried by my video store, which should prove the importance of a good rental place.
Clouds of Sils Maria, on the other hand, is airing on Showtime throughout the weekend, is on Netflix, and has a nifty Criterion edition.