Mulholland Drive (15)

Review by Simon Bell

While much will be, and is being, made of the meaning of David Lynch's latest surreal adventure, those most rewarded will be the ones who experience the film rather than try and make sense of it. Just like, say, Frederico Fellini's "8 and a half", this flick requires readjustment.

Cute blonde Betty (Naomi Watts) from Deep River, Ontario, arrives at LAX airport with stars in her eyes and glitter in her gaze seeking to fulfil her every wish in the city of dreams.

Meanwhile, the brunette co-heroine (former Miss USA Laura Elena Harring), stranded after escaping a botched hit via a brutal head-on car crash, wanders dazed and blinking towards the lights of the suburbs below, finally settling under the kitchen table of Betty's actress aunt. Unaware of who and where she is - and suitably inspired by a Hayworth-with-cigarette poster for "Gilda" - she calls herself Rita and befriends the starstruck Doris Day-alike.

While the amateur sleuths try to piece together the femme fatale's recent past, Betty is gradually drawn into Rita's shadowy world. Both drift almost aimlessly through the dreamlike LA landscape as things slowly become less certain than what they seem: What is the secret of the blue key? What is the true identity of the woman found dead in the apartment? How significant are the goings-on of the Silencio nightclub? Will the mysterious and coldly menacing Cowboy carry out his threats?

Unfolding elsewhere is the blackly comic tale of a director who can't get his film made the way he wants, amidst Mob meddling and his wife's hilarious infidelities with the pool cleaner.

Mirroring the first half, the latter stages are where some may get lost. Characters fall into the new dimension as other characters, with new and very different passions, motives and infatuations. Look forward and you could be looking back, look back and you could be looking forward.

Perplexed? You will be. Most (but not all) will be revealed to only the patient and open-minded viewer… And a second screening won't go amiss.

Mulholland Drive won it's maestro half the director's prize (shared with Joel Coen) at Cannes and was voted best film of 2001 by New York's critics. More accolades will surely follow.

We have French company Canal Plus to thank for rescuing this masterpiece from the dustbin of history, taking up the baton as it did when ABC executives took a look at it's commissioned TV pilot and got the fright of their lives.

Lynch himself says, "All films are dreams": The language of the cinema lends itself to dream; film is more gifted a medium than words to convey the abstract. In that sense it's similar in vein to "Lost Highway" (1997), Blue Velvet (1986) and the "Twin Peaks" tele series, with Lynch back-referencing his own work and relying on his favourite imagery: car crashes, the bewildered beauty lost in stupor, strangers miming spookily to classic tunes of yesteryear.

Equally dazzling as it is infuriating, a quiet sense of dread hangs around the picture like a haunting mist as it leads you on an occasionally terrifying and constantly surprising trance.

At the heart of the piece and giving what will most probably be the performance of her life is Watts: mesmerising in the extreme as Betty/Diane Selwyn. Even if you're not a paid member of the Lynch mob, you'll want to see this movie if only for Watts alone.

"There NEVER was a woman like Gilda!" roared the tagline for Charles Vidor's noir 1946 classic. I think she may have just met her match.