'My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn': Film Review

My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn Still - H 2015
Courtesy of RADiUS

My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn Still - H 2015

For faithful Refn fans

Filmmaker Liz Corfixen delivers a highly personal, behind-the-scenes account of her director husband's efforts making "Only God Forgives"

It's safe to say that Only God Forgives, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's follow-up to his international success Drive, is no Apocalypse Now. Similarly, My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, his wife Liz Corfixen's behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of that ill-fated film, is no Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, another spousal-made depiction of its subject's artistic travails. Nonetheless, this intriguing if hardly revelatory account offers some provocative moments, even if the personal access doesn't really add very much. With its brief running time, the documentary seems more appropriate as a DVD extra than a stand-alone theatrical release.

It's made clear from the depiction of the film's six month shoot in Bangkok that its insecure director was suffering from the pressure created by the success of his previous feature. "It won't be as commercial as Drive, he admits early on. Later, he complains about being known as "the guy who made Drive," to which Corfixen reasonably responds, "For many years you were the guy who made Pusher."

Not wanting to be separated for the duration of the lengthy shoot, Corfixen and their two young children accompanied him to Bangkok, where they ensconced themselves in a high-rise apartment. But despite the presence of his family, Refn, who at one point instructs his wife how to make a particular shot, is depicted as a severely moody and depressed character often seen moping in bed.

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"I've spent three years making this film and I don't really know what it's about," he whines, foreshadowing a sentiment that would be expressed in many of the film's scathing reviews.

The proceedings are filled with oddly eccentric moments, including Refn's friend and mentor, the Spanish cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky, providing tarot card readings to him and his wife. Refn also persuades his star Ryan Gosling to accompany him to host a screening of Drive for which they'll be paid the princely sum of $40,000 in cash.

"Will we be able to use it for the film?" the actor asks, to which Refn responds that it will be absolutely necessary.

Gosling provides his trademark charisma here, with his already formidable sex appeal only heightened by his propensity for wearing bicep-revealing tank tops and the frequent scenes of him happily playing with the couple's children. When Refn delivers a tortured explanation about a scene, explaining that violence is like sex because "it's all about the build-up," the bemused actor stares directly at the camera, playfully asking, "Did you get that?"

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There are brief scenes depicting Refn at work on the set, choreographing the film's elaborately staged, floridly violent sequences. "That was great blood!" he exclaims to a technician after completing one particularly gory scene.

Corfixen takes pains to showcase her husband's angst, while at the same time emphasizing her own strenuous efforts to hold the family together under the difficult circumstances. It lends an undeniably emotional resonance to the proceedings, with the result that the film seems as much personal therapy as an examination of the artistic process.

There's also footage of the film's premiere at Cannes and its aftermath, with Refn forlornly reading a particularly scathing review, asking his wife "Why do they have to be so mean?"

As usual she responds with common sense. "In a way you asked for it," she says. "It's not a crowd-pleaser."

Director/screenwriter/director of photography: Liv Corfixen
Producer: Lene Borglum
Editor: Catherine Ambus
Composer: Cliff Martinez

Rated PG-13, 58 min.