TIME, June 4, 1990, p. 79

Unlaced and Weird on Top

At Cannes, David Lynch slices a poisoned American Pie

By Richard Corliss

David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini
The winning director and Rossellini
His mind is "God´s own private mystery."

In Cannes for the world premiere of his new movie, David Lynch decided to leave his shoelace untied. "For good luck," he explains onliquely. As if the man from Twin Peaks needed luck last week. His all-time-odd TV series lured millions of addicted viewers to its season finale. ABC announced that the show would return in the fall. And to complete the hat trick, Lynch copped the Cannes Film Festivals Palme d`Or for Wild at Heart, the writer-director´s latest affront to the cinematic status quo. Flanked by his radiant companion Isabella Rossellini, aswash in the 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 shown as a tribute to glasnost. The jury, headed by director Bernardo Bertolucci, did bestow subsidiary awards to films whose politics complemented their aesthetics. Taxi Blues, a Soviet-French coproduction about the convulsive friendship of a Moscow cabdriver and a Jewish jazz saxophonist, won the director´s prize for Pavel Lounguine. Krystyna Janda was named best actress for her role as a woman undergoing state torture in Ryszard Bugajski´s The Interrogation, a harrowing babes-in-bondage film that the Poles had suppressed since 1982. The jury should also have honored Karel Kachnya´s The Ear, made in 1970 and just now released. This stark, dark comedy, depicting one long night in the life of a bickering Czech couple who find their house bugged, plays like Who´s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as written by Franz Kafka.

Whatever the prevailing winds of political humanism, none of the glasnost movies stood a chance against Wild at Heart, a big movie from a hot American director, rushed from the lab to Cannes. The place was tense with anticipation. Early in the festival, Lyncholepts had lined up to see new episodes of Twin Peaks screend 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´s climax not aired in the States. Europeans pummeled Americans for details of the series, which will begin airing overseas in the fall. Wild at Heart may have had less at stake thatn the East European films, but by the time it played, toward the end of the festival, the whole movie world was watching.

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 charged 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 (Crispin Glover) puts cockroaches in his underwear and breaks into sobs when told that Christmas is still six months away. Heads get crushed, punctured and blow 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?"

Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage
Shocks to the system: loser-friendly lovers Dern and Cage hit the road in Wild at Heart

Wild at Heart is about nothing, perhaps, but the power of pictures to shock the nervous system - so much that the film may be rated X in the U.S. It´s about the fun that actors can have with characters named Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), Perdita Durango (Rossellini) and Mr. Reindeer (Morgan Shepherd). It´s about obsessive imagery and complusive behavior: half the people walk on crutches, and just about 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 Lynch´s fond hommage 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 mother Diane Ladd) is the Wicked Witch, all long nails, daft cackles and unquenchable vengeance.

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." Oh. 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 Wild at Heart opens this summer in the U.S., a lot of people will want to be let in on the secret.