The following is part two of my coverage of Film at Lincoln Center’s 50th Mixtape: Free Double Features series. Part one can be read, here.
No hay banda
To choose between two things, you must know both. l can’t choose vice or virtue knowing only virtue.
-Two English Girls
The first question to ask: what links these two films? On the level of aesthetics, both couldn’t be further apart. Truffaut supplies Two English Girls with narration, ensuring the audience never misunderstands its characters motivations or psychology. Lynch, on the other hand, provides no such key, preferring instead to traffic in something more ambiguous in line with his style. The story of Two English Girl’s is linear whereas Mulholland Drive seems to play out in reverse, presenting effect and then cause. Both films are complex, yet one is about the blossoming romance between a Frenchman and two Englishwomen while the other is about a naïve actress from Canada finding herself embedded within Los Angeles’ underworld. A romance versus a noir. Ultimately, however, both films are about desire turned into obsession.
Claude Roc (Jean-Pierre Leaud) finds himself caught between Anne Brown (Kika Markham), and her younger sister Muriel (Stacey Tendeter). Claude’s friendship initially only extends towards Anne, but upon invitation to spend the Summer with Anne and Muriel in England, he becomes increasingly attracted to the younger sister. Anne supports the marriage having given Claude the idea in the first place. But there’s something in the way. Claude pulls and Muriel pushes. Muriel pulls and Claude pushes. Claude leaves to return to France and a year later, begins a non-exclusive relationship with Anne who’s studying sculpture in Paris. Anne herself can’t be tamed, seducing not only Claude, but also Diurka (Phillippe Leotard), a publisher built like a strongman.
Two English Girls is a story of discovery, but not in the coming-of-age sense. It’s a story about young-adults attempting to control their desire which fuels and harms them. Claude, Muriel, and Anne become obsessed with one another and with wanting to be together but for the most part, only cause each other pain. Youth is bittersweet, and Truffaut’s film becomes beautiful for its display of lovers in the throes of passion.
Mulholland Drive may not be beautiful in the traditional sense, but it does contain a moment of beauty. The heroines of the film attend a late-night opera in which they’re told that there is no band. The music will be coming out of a speaker. A woman comes out, and she begins to sing, belting out a love song in Spanish. She collapses, but the song continues. The heroines cry; there is no band. The moment here provides an insight into the world of Mulholland Drive. The world is illusory. The love may not be real, and if it were, we must question its motives.
Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), a bright and optimistic actress, arrives in Los Angeles to further her acting career. There, she meets a woman calling herself, Rita (Laura Elena Harring). A failed assassination attempt has left Rita an amnesiac, and so the two women depart on a quest to find Rita’s identity. Just as in Twin Peaks (1990-1991), what’s of more interest here isn’t the destination but the journey. When Betty and Rita find the answer they’ve been looking for, the film rewinds. Now Naomi Watts plays Diane, Rita’s ex-lover, and a woman who seems to be everything Betty is not—selfish and temperamental. The story then plays out towards its middle, or rather, beginning.
If Anne in Two English Girls is caught between vice and virtue, then Watts’ role as Betty and Diane embodies just this dichotomy. In her role as Betty, we see love in its ideal form. Betty comforts Rita, and the two find solace in one another. They’re both consumed with passion, but it never amounts to violence. Diane, on the other hand, spurned by Rita, plots behind her back. Rita has left Diane for a successful director whose own wife will leave him for a plumber. As true as it was in Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), in Mulholland Drive, Hollywood appears to be a soul-sucking machine. Art and love are also bound in Two English Girls, but it’s one removed from the money-politics of an industry. In Mulholland Drive, there are greater forces at play, both real and supernatural.