David Lynch's French connections
David Lynch's films are often dark but on his latest France visit the director wants to bring peace through meditation
FRANCE has been kind to David Lynch; he's an officier of the Légion d'honneur (a rare thing for a foreigner); French production companies have supported his last three films and he has twice won best foreign director from the French-based César cinema awards. The feeling is mutual he tells Connexion.
You're quite a frequent visitor to France
This is one of my favourite places in the world. I've had a lot of support in France for my films and I love Paris. I'm doing a lot of work here now. I'm here on average maybe twice a year.
Do you see much of the rest of the country at all?
Well, when I go to the Cannes Film festival I see the south of France but mainly I'm coming to Paris. I stay in a hotel here.
Would you like to live here?
For sure, if I have the money I'd like to get a place here. It would be in Paris. I'm doing a lot of lithographs here. I'm working in a place called Idem Print Studio. It's incredible – a 150 year old printing shop. It's the real thing. It's got a mood you can't believe.
You've had exhibitions here as well
Yes I had a big exhibition at the Fondation Cartier and a big exhibition of lithographs in the north of France.
When did you first visit France?
My first trip was 1965. I came here with my friend Jack Fisk. I was kind of lost and just travelling around.
What were your first impressions?
Paris is I think the most beautiful city in the world. It's inspiring to me. It's a place that's just packed with all the arts. It's a great, great celebration of all the arts. It's just got the feel.
Has it ever inspired any scenes in your films?
(pauses) Let's see. I don't know. I don't think so...but it's still inspiring.
You made The Cowboy and the Frenchman in 1988 for a project with Le Figaro (The French as seen by...) Have your opinions changed much since then?
We live in a world of change. Everything is always changing but that film was kind of a cliché – both an American and French cliché film and there's probably still truth to that.
What would you say about the French away from the clichés then?
Well as I said, they're lovers of art. They champion the arts more than any other country in the world, they support the arts more than any other country I think, and this is very important to me. Plus they've got great food, great wine, incredible knowledge of materials and design. It's a really high-end life.
Do you have any particular things that you like to do when you're in France?
I like to work.
Is it always work or do you get to relax here?
I usually come to work and that's the most enjoyable thing. I don't really like vacations. I like to work here a lot.
Who are your influential French figures?
I like so many of the artists that work in France. When you come here and connect the place to the work, you see that it must have been so inspiring for them to be here. It sort of feeds the work this place. It's a great country to live the artlife.
Would you ever make a film here?
For sure, if the ideas came. You don't just arbitrarily say ‘I'm going to make a film in Paris.' The ideas have to come and then if the ideas came and Paris was the setting, then absolutely, it would be a joy.
There's some bits of French that makes their way into your films. Do you have any affinity for the French language?
No I don't speak French. I just murder the language.
Why choose to use French?
Things appear from ideas. You don't just say I want some French here. Ideas come along and who knows exactly how that happens but they come along and then there it is.
So it's like there's a little bit of France swimming around out there?
There's everything swimming around and sometimes that will conjure an idea, that's how it all goes. Ideas, ideas, ideas.
Do you have any particular favourite foods in France?
Oh yes, I like the foie gras. I like vin rouge Bordeaux. I like all the French pastries and I like the galettes. It's hard to get a bad meal in France.
What's brought you and your meditation project to France?
The David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace has helped start well over 100,000 students to meditate. It's in several schools in US, both private and public. Some of these were the worst schools in their state and in one year the schools had been completely changed. It's not just France it's in so many countries now. There's a project in the West Bank in Palestine, in Africa, many countries in Europe, Iceland, Canada.
What's the connection that's brought you to Lille?
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came over to Lille,50 years ago this month. It's a celebration of him coming to France.
How do you feel Transcendental Meditation (TM) is received in France as opposed to the US?
France and Germany will probably be among the last countries where the penny drops and they say ‘wait a minute this is a great thing'. I base that on many, many misunderstandings. The misunderstanding of this world ‘cult' or ‘sect' which is very unfortunate. This is absolutely not true. It's not a religion or against any religion. It's a technique, an ancient form of meditation for the human being that opens the door to the treasury within; unbounded, infinite eternal consciousness. Life improves almost over night when people experience ‘the big self' – the unified field within. The lack of knowledge and misunderstandings are ridiculously huge here.
But little by little they're saying there's got to be something to this. In other places the misunderstandings have almost disappeared and it's a normal thing for people to meditate in schools, in homes, wherever. It's as normal as breathing and life improves rapidly. The world is full of stress and this is a stress buster beyond the beyond. All these stress related illnesses that people suffer, so much of the behaviour is dictated by stress – you practise this thing and it frees you from stress.
Grades go up, relationships improve, health improves. Everything gets better.
The main sticking point for France is not the meditation aspect but the money aspect – how would you respond to critics?
That's another crazy thing. People will spend money on almost anything but when it comes to meditation they say it's a scam. It's because they haven't yet had the experience or they don't see the change in one of their friends who's had this experience. Once they start seeing this transformation in other people they realise that this is nothing to spend for this life transforming thing. The money they save from the doctors is going to be huge. You want a legitimate teacher of Transcendental Meditation and it's about 90 mins a day over four days to learn the technique. The teachers, they need to live and have a place to stay and a car to drive. It's so well worth the money there's nothing to talk about.
You've met President Sarkozy – how do you find him?
I love him. I think he's filled with energy. He's got a great energy and a great caring for France.
You've spoken with him about TM as well. Has he helped you with this project up in Lille?
No, because I think people are not quite ready to go out on a limb and say let's do this thing because of these strange misunderstandings or lack of knowledge but the times are changing. To experience this is life transforming.
You put it in a school that's in trouble, you put it into a school that's in great shape it will just get better. It's a human being thing.
Awards, art and films
Won the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or for Wild at Heart in 1990. In 2002 he presided over the festival jury.
Won two Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of Baftas) for Elephant Man in 1982 and for Mulholland Drive in 2002.
He was made a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur in 2002 and then made an officier by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
Sarkozy says he is a fan, declaring that Lynch's Elephant Man convinced him that "cinema was a highly important matter"
An exhibition of 25 years of Lynch's work as a painter, sculpture, photographer and musician entitled The Air Is On Fire went on show in Paris in 2007 at the Fondation Cartier.
From his 2006 book Catching the Big Fish: "I love the French. They're the biggest film bugs and protectors of cinema in the world. They really look out for the filmmaker and the rights of the filmmaker, and they believe in final cut. I've been very luck that I've been in with some French companies that have backed me."
When American TV channel ABC dropped Mulholland Drive (originally conceived as a series) after seeing the pilot episode it was French production company StudioCanal that provided the funding to turn it into the award-winning film.
StudioCanal also provided funding for Lynch's Inland Empire and The Straight Story.
Lynch is by no means guaranteed hits among audiences in France. At the Cannes festival in 1992 his film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was booed following its screening.
Transcendental Meditation – a way for peace that rarely passes quietly
Transcendental Meditation is never far from criticism, principally for its direct approach of charging money for courses instructing people how to carry out the technique. It was founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950s and spread around the world as famous faces such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Clint Eastwood, Jane Fonda and Mia Farrow took it up.
In 2005 David Lynch announced that he had been practising the technique for 32 years.
That year he founded the David Lynch foundation to promote meditation in schools. The foundation's latest project aims to reduce stress and violence at 10 schools in Lille by funding meditation courses for students and teachers.
Milvudes (Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires) which monitors religions and possible cults in France says their main concern with TM is a "lack of transparency" within the group. Milvudes spokeswoman Claire Barbereau said: "It is presented as a technique for meditation but there is a strong spiritual movement in the background." She said people could find themselves pushed to adhere to the movements beliefs which were not necessarily linked to meditation.
Ms Barbereau said they had received no complaints about the group for many years. Milvudes does not keep a list of ‘cults' "because we are concerned with what they do, not what they are." It was up to the Ministry of Education to see whether the David Lynch Foundation's plan was an effective way of helping children improve performance at school, she added.