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Mulholland Drive

Interested to see whether the sex scene in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive justified its top billing, I watched the movie again yesterday. There are three sex scenes – two between the main actresses, Naomi Watts as Betty and Laura Harring as Rita – and one of Naomi Watts masturbating in tears. The reveal was bare breasts. Nonetheless the film had an erotic tension as much as gripping mystery.

In many ways it resembles Hitchcock at his finest, say Vertigo with numerous twists, adoption and confusion of identities. As with many a French movie, it’s quite hard to grapple with what exactly is going on.

In brief – and initially – there are two conflated plot lines. Betty, the niece of an actress, comes to Hollywood from Canada seeking a Hollywood career and stays in her aunt’s flat. Rita (Laura Harring) becomes an amnesiac after a car accident in Mulholland Drive and seeks shelter in the flat.

Betty helps Rita unravel her identity as she seeks a role in a film directed by young director Adam (Julian Theroux). Then it all becomes confusing as Rita and Betty switch identities and no one in fact is really who they appear to be, or say they are. There is one more savage twist right at the end. As I went for a walk trying to unravel it all, I was still in the dark, an appropriate phrase as it maintains its macabre quality as much of the scenes are in every sense dark.

I have seen many French films which handle sex better.

In fact I would say the French are the best at mixing up sex into the story.

Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour explores women’s sexual fantasy and the viewer as in Mulholland Drive is unsure what is reality.

The only reveal is one of Catherine Deneuve with a transparent black negligee over her derrière but I have known one friend be glued to it on first watching.

I do not think Mulholland Drive justifies top ten sex billing and – as a murder/mystery – too much is unclear but as picture of Hollywood in 2001 it is memorable.

Naomi Watts is superb in her first role in which she has to play the ingenue, a waitress, a helpful friend, but is she?

She is hit upon in a audition in a world before ‘me too’ where there was sexploitation of women.

Laura Harring – with the looks of Maria Callas – also gives a fine performance.

It was also good to see that star of 50s musicals Ann Miller as a sinister controlling concierge who also assumes another identity.

Hitchcock was called the Master as one of his qualities was he knew how to work his audience, in some cases scaring them . It’s an important element of being a cineaste and David Lynch possessed it too. I suspect he rather likes the audience being confused. The film also encompasses jealousy and the three sex scenes contribute to that. It’s a work of a if not the master

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts