As Nicolas Winding Refn prepares to begin production on “The Neon Demon,” his upcoming foray into horror, you can take a peek into his process thanks to the new documentary “My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn,” which was made by his wife.
There's a reason “Hearts Of Darkness” is often considered one of the best behind-the-scenes films about filmmaking, and it's because Eleanor Coppola had access that no one else would have. The same is true here, and it captures Refn at the moment where he was working to follow up his breakthrough hit “Drive.”
It's a fascinating moment for any filmmaker. In Refn's case, he did a lot of great work before “Drive,” but everything came together on that movie in a very special way. Ryan Gosling was at peak cool, and there was something compelling and immediate about that title and those trailers. When you make a whole bunch of films before you have your breakthrough, it can be confusing. What was it about that one that people responded to? Why was it that moment that you finally broke through?
People went nuts for that photo of Guillermo Del Toro and Ryan Gosling together at Disney's California Adventure, but it didn't surprise me. When I ran into Del Toro at the Toronto Film Festival the year “Drive” was there, Del Toro had already seen Refn's film four times, and he was on his way in to see it again. He flipped for that movie, and he's also on-the-record as being a huge fan of Gosling's directorial debut, “Lost River.”
Refn was obviously feeling pressure, both internal and external, when making “Only God Forgives.” It's a brutal and uncompromising film, and the expectations for it were sky-high because it was Gosling and Refn again. Watching Liz Corfixen's documentary, she captures the chemistry that exists between the star and the filmmaker, and she does a really wonderful job of allowing us into the absolute dead center of all of Refn's anxieties. I'm not surprised by how intimate the work material is that Corfixen shot, but I am surprised at how much of the marital tension she left in the film. Our exclusive clip, embedded above, shows you a hint of that when they're just getting back to Denmark after “Only God Forgives” wraps what looks like a very difficult and demanding shoot in Bangkok. The title of the documentary takes on a very different meaning when you look at the stuff about the pressures that the films put on the marriage. This is Corfixen's movie about how her life is literally directed by Refn at this point, since the choices they make as a couple are choices they make for him and his work.
It's a bracingly honest film, and one that any aspiring filmmaker should make a must-see. This is no mere promotional piece, and you can check it out for yourself as the film arrives in theaters, on iTunes, and on all VOD platforms tomorrow.