REVIEW: The Neon Demon

26 06 2016

Many working directors can lay claim to being a “man’s director,” but few own it quite like Danish pornographer of violence (his words, not mine) and general provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn. The films that have thrust him into mainstream attention on the stage of global cinema have all centered around tough, masculine men exerting their dominance over other people and their environment. Seriously, the narrative throughline is practically flowing with testosterone.

Women, meanwhile, take backseat to these public displays of machismo. In “Drive,” Carey Mulligan’s Irene fulfills the classic archetype of damsel in distress, and Christina Hendricks’ brief appearance in the film as Blanche is far more memorable for her character’s bloody exit than anything she does. Was there a woman in “Valhalla Rising?” Honest question. “Bronson” gets a slight pass since it takes place in a single-sex prison, though the same cannot be said for “Only God Forgives,” which grants Kristin Scott Thomas’ Crystal only a mere foul-mouthed scenery chewing bit amidst a marathon of close-ups on emotionless Ryan Gosling.

In Refn’s latest film, “The Neon Demon,” women move front and center as he peers into the nasty, competitive void where one might expect to find a heart in the fashion industry. But after witnessing Refn’s misogynistic, insulting views of the opposite sex, it’s safe to say they might be better left on the sidelines in his films.

In the aforementioned Refn films, he conveys the idea of masculinity as a renewable resource. One can earn their stripes through hard work and a strong exhibition of power. As time goes by, the essence of one’s manhood can grow in size. “The Neon Demon” shows that he believes the exact opposite about women. Their chief currency, that of beauty, is finite and withering away with each passing moment. To maintain their status, women have to either cheat, steal or lie. Some can buy time for themselves by trading sexual favors with men, but what takes those girls to the top is what will also ultimately make them drop.

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6 02 2016

LoveWith an all-encompassing title like “Love,” one could expect Gaspar Noe to probe many different forms of love. The provocateur does explore many types of sex, but they all come back to one specific kind of a love – if one even wants to call it that. The film is little more than a collection of straight white American male fantasies, like an artful cobbling together of pornographic myths that dispenses with their artifice but maintains most of their misogyny.

“Love” follows the sexcapades of Karl Glusman’s Murphy, an American wannabe filmmaker living in Paris – presumptively because of the more libertine sexual attitudes. He loves fetishizing the openness of European women to meet all his carnal desire, be they in a three-way or at a public orgy. Noe frames most of Murphy’s debauchery in elegiac flashbacks to his penetrative glory days; not unlike “The Tree of Life,” he yearns for a paradise lost.

Murphy’s current misery is that he is unwittingly trapped in fatherhood after a broken condom during casual sex. Of course, it’s not with the woman he truly desires. Murphy happily embraces sex when it stimulates him but bemoans the act when it produces what is designed to do: produce a child. This shift in his view of sex also indicates a change in the way he sees women. They are wonderful when they only have to worry about being pleasure-makers but are nagging, cruel shrews once their focus shifts to their offspring.

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