Despite the Gods: Film Review

Despite The Gods Film Still - H 2012

Despite The Gods Film Still - H 2012

An absorbing documentary chronicling the derailment of an ambitious, Bollywood-style filmmaking effort.

David Lynch's filmmaker daughter, Jennifer, proves a natural on-camera talent in Penny Vozniak's directing debut.

Flop sweat mingles with the perpetual perspiration of the tropics in Despite the Gods, an absorbing documentary following director Jennifer Lynch’s misadventures in India filming a conceptually dubious Bollywood horror movie about a shape-shifting snake woman.

That over-schedule, over-budget calamity, Hisss (2010), sank without a trace after the Indian producers recut Lynch’s final edit. Despite the Gods, Australian Penny Vozniak’s Lost in La Mancha-style account of behind-the-scenes chaos, has already been seen by more people on its journey around the Australian festival circuit, and recent dates in Stockholm and Sitges, Spain (where it accompanied Lynch’s new feature Chained) should kick off a round of international fest exposure. An abbreviated small-screen version should easily rack up sales.

Wryly humorous, straight-talking and casually foul-mouthed, Jennifer Lynch is a big personality who, before our eyes, veers from exhilaration at an actor’s performance through tears and vexation to a self-deprecating quip and c’est-la-vie shrug. She doesn’t scare easily, having chosen to follow in the career footsteps of her icon fathe,r David Lynch, and picks herself back up after the venomous reception that greeted her Razzie-winning debut film, Boxing Helena.

But filming in India tests the recovering addict and single mom. Culture clashes and flash rainstorms, strikes and artistic differences, as well as the challenge of being accompanied on set by her precocious pre-teen daughter Sydney, have Lynch wailing at one point “I want to go home!”

As production on the creature feature/love story/comedy/musical devolves into chaos and stretches to eight months, director and cinematographer Vozniak, initially brought on to shoot footage for DVD extras, delves deeper. Lynch opens up about her personal doubts and fears, as well as the toll being exacted filming her third “and hopefully not my last” feature, while producer Govind Menon frets about his multimillion-dollar investment and gorgeous lead actress Mallika Sherawat dishes on sexist Indian society.

Meanwhile, the beauty and bedlam of India provide a compelling sideshow as Vozniak’s camera roams locations in Chennai, Mumbai and the jungles of Kerala for establishing shots.

Entertaining beyond its nuts-and-bolts appeal to cinephiles, Despite the Gods owes much of its zip to the funny, passionate and remarkably frank Lynch, who waxes sanguine about the experience in a four-years-later coda featuring a pink-haired love interest first introduced toward the end of filming Hisss.

Venue: Brisbane International Film Festival
Jennifer Lynch, Govind Menon, Sydney Lynch, Mallika Sherawat, Vikram Singh
Production company: House of Gary
Director: Penny Vozniak
Producer: Karina Astrup
Director of photography: Penny Vozniak
Editor: Melanie Annan
Jessica Chapnik Kahn, Nadav Kahn
Cat & Docs, Paris
No rating, 86 minutes