REVIEW: My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

29 04 2015

My_Life_Directed_POSTER_FINAL_A_AIM.inddFor a while, I debated whether or not Liv Corfixen’s documentary “My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn” merited a review on my blog.  Clocking in at 59 minutes, the film falls in the gray area between short and feature.  But given its interest to fans of “Drive” and haters of “Only God Forgives,” I figured I could spare a few hundred words for the sake of cinephilia.

After being put to sleep in Cannes by Refn’s critically reviled 2013 film, I described “Only God Forgives” as “a fetish meant only to please Refn and a few others who share his bizarre – and borderline irresponsible – penchant” while also claiming it lacked any internal logic.  This behind-the-scenes look at the filmmaking process, anchored by Refn’s wife, alerts us to the fact that Refn himself saw the trainwreck coming on set and found himself helpless to prevent it.

For the moviegoer, the film’s squandered opportunity represents a loss of 90 minutes and maybe a few dollars.  But for Refn, however, the flop of “Only God Forgives” jeopardizes his very livelihood.  I might have felt sorrow or pity for the director after “My Life Directed” had Corfixen allowed the documentary to function almost entirely as an apologia.  Yet she insists on using her footage as partial vindication for the project, a choice that makes her movie better and leaves his in stasis.

With the exception of its resigned and defeated (rather than triumphant) tone, “My Life Directed” more or less resembles a standard making-of special.  Since Refn allegedly would not let Corfixen shoot his blow-ups on set, it falters as a portrait of a director losing control of his film and as an autopsy of a failed filmmaking venture.  The film would make a decent Criterion Collection extra, if “Only God Forgives” were ever to get that treatment … though I do not think anyone expects that day to come.  C+2stars

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REVIEW: Only God Forgives

20 07 2013

Only God ForgivesCannes Film Festival – Official Competition

Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” was mediocre genre revisionism.  His latest film, “Only God Forgives,” is an attempt at surrealist action that borders on the experimental.  On principle, I’d like to say I preferred the latter since it was at least ambitious.

However, after a second watch from the comforts of my own bed (the first, a late-night screening in Cannes, put me to sleep for large chunks), I really cannot bring myself to endorse “Only God Forgives.”  It aims for David Lynch or Alexander Jodorowsky, the great surrealist filmmaker to whom the film is dedicated, but falls far short of the mark.  Teasing at a dreamlike experience is not enough – the film must deliver, and it cannot execute on its promise.

Refn’s film lacks any internal logic, bizarrely floating through non-related scenes of a sadistic Thai police officer and Ryan Gosling’s stoically mute Julian.  All great actors run the risk of turning themselves into a cliché (see: Johnny Depp), and I’m sorry to report that we may have reached a tipping point with Gosling.  He’s so frustratingly not a presence in the film that it does not play as tough anymore; it’s just plain obnoxious.

Thankfully, the film does deploy Kristin Scott Thomas to talk enough for the both of them.  As a psychotic mother, perhaps a physical embodiment of Oedipal desire, she’s a firecracker who adds a jolt of energy every time she comes on screen.  Sadly, that’s only a few scenes.

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