It’s a miracle anyone’s making films these days. So muses Jennifer Lynch in Despite The Gods, and it’s not hard to see why. Penny Vozniak’s directorial debut follows the behind-the-scenes chaos of Lynch’s creature feature/fantasy Bollywood horror Hisss (2010), her failed B-movie venture about a shape-shifting and man-eating snake goddess.
Over-budget and over-schedule, we follow Lynch as she has to relocate to Kerala, deal with hysterical Bollywood fans, film under extreme rain conditions, and weather all manner of culture clashes, all the while juggling single motherhood to her 12-year-old daughter Sydney. What emerges is as much a portrait of the difficulties of manning an epic Hollywood-Bollywood production, as it is an insight into being a female director in a notoriously male-dominated industry. Released at a similar time to her spectacular cellar-horror Chained, Vozniak shines a light on this controversial and misunderstood director, and everyone’s falling in love with her.
Despite the Gods sits firmly in the film-about-a-film documentary genre (of which others include Lost In La Mancha and Burden of Dreams (1982)). Vozniak charts the ups and downs of Hisss, as her roving camera follows a chaotic crew in the maelstrom of Chennai, Mumbai and Kerala. This $6 million co-production between Hollywood and Bollywood was never going to be easy – and the film becomes, in a manner that never feels clichéd, a journey of self-realisation for Lynch. The oh-so very many on-set disasters become a backdrop for Lynch’s mouthy and honest observations about filmmaking, love, sex and motherhood.
The daughter of David Lynch, Jennifer made her directorial debut with Boxing Helena, a box-office flop and fodder for multiple lawsuits, accusations of making misogynistic “torture porn” and a gong for Worst Director at the Golden Raspberry Awards. We see the demons of Boxing Helena and her father’s failed third flop with Dune stalking this teetering-on-the-edge production, although Lynch hints at many others. She talks candidly about the long hiatus after Boxing Helena, in which she dealt with addiction problems and depression and finding herself a single parent. Lynch touchingly mentions the aftermath of her father’s Dune, telling us that he didn’t speak for a year. But Despite The Gods still shows us a director getting into her stride. Her joy at hearing of the critical success of Surveillance (2008) will be familiar to anyone who’s finally had a pat on the back for all their hard work.
Despite the Gods is a joy from start to finish. Vozniak brings out the madness of filmmaking, but also its colour and excitement, and like Lynch at the end, we come to realise that failure itself doesn’t really matter, if you find great things along the way.
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