"It FEELS kind of miraculous being here and kind of surreal," Jennifer Lynch said as she picked on a light lunch Wednesday afternoon, just hours before her official reemergence from a long stretch in the wilderness. "Surveillance," Lynch's second feature as director -- and her first since 1993's much-derided amputee fairy tale "Boxing Helena" -- was scheduled to have its world premiere as a midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival later that night.
A twisty thriller with an unabashedly nasty streak and an almost theatrical taste for excess, the movie stars Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond as FBI agents investigating a massacre in the flatlands of Nebraska, where they must contend with the dim local cops and a host of highly unreliable witnesses. (Magnet Releasing, which acquired the film just before Cannes, is set to open it later this year.)
"Surveillance" originated as a screenplay by Kent Harper (an actor who has a supporting role in the film), but Lynch, who has a co-writing credit, tailored it to match her interests. "Originally, it was about witches," she said. "But what I gravitated to were the elements of desolation and the idea of people watching each other. I also liked the idea of a thriller that right from the get-go lets you in on the fact that all these people are lying."
Lynch, now 40, has barely been heard from since she made a splash as the precocious daughter of David Lynch, entering the family trade with "Boxing Helena," a film she wrote at age 19 and directed at 24.
During that absence, she devoted herself to parenthood -- her daughter, Sydney, is now 12 -- and for a time struggled with alcohol abuse. "I'm a different person," she said. "I've been through quite a lot: raising my daughter on my own, which is an ongoing process, and I got sober, which is an ongoing process." She also had three spinal surgeries for an injury sustained in a car accident: "The fact that I get to walk down the red carpet tonight and hold my daughter's hand is a big deal -- they didn't even know if I'd walk at one point."
She admits to being wounded by the fallout from "Helena," which received scathing reviews and was at the center of a high-profile lawsuit. (Kim Basinger, the original star, pulled out and was successfully sued by the producers; she was replaced by Sherilyn Fenn.) "The film became a huge target and it never had a chance," Lynch said. "I'd be lying if I told you it all didn't really mess my head up. . . . I still can't Google myself today." But she added, "It's great to have fallen flat on my face and to stand up again. . . . I have more to say in a much more mature voice."
Lynch is acutely aware that as long as she makes movies, she is destined to exist in the shadow of her famous father, a former jury president here and a Palme d'Or winner for "Wild at Heart."
Still, she said, her father has been an inspiration: "He feels very little responsibility to anyone but himself when he tells his stories -- that's something to be envied, to be studied." She added, "If there's one gift I've been given from both my parents" -- her father and painter mother, Peggy Reavey, divorced when she was 6 -- "it's the idea that you make the work you want to make -- the joy is in the making. Once it's done, you let it go, and you move on."