'It's all fetish for me': What really drives the man behind Only God Forgives
‘Drive’ director Nicolas Winding Refn’s new thriller, ‘Only God Forgives’, finds Ryan Gosling seeking revenge in Bangkok. Oddly, the controversy has been about its lack of dialogue rather than its ultra-violence
Nicolas Winding Refn, director of Only God Forgives: "I make films about the things that arouse me"
It comes as little surprise to find Nicolas Winding Refn, the director behind Only God Forgives – Cannes 2013’s most divisive, obtuse film – in divisive and obtuse form. The filmmaker responsible for such incendiary gems as Pusher, Drive and Bronson doesn’t mince words. Or does he? It can be awfully hard to tell. Does he really believe that Drive, the film that saw him take home the Best Director prize from Cannes 2011, was his version of Garry Marshall’s Pretty Woman?
Oh yes. Apparently Mr Marshall “did it first”.
Does he really view himself, in the manner he outlined at the film’s press conference, as a pornographer?
Watch the trailer - Only God Forgives
“Yes. It’s all fetish for me. I make films about the things that arouse me at different times.”
So the news that he has ditched a remake of Logan’s Run in order to rework Barbarella for TV: that counts as fetish, right?
Well, no actually. He’s reimagining the intergalactic hussy, once made famous by Jane Fonda, for his daughters: “I want to make something they can see. And I love the idea of a woman in space.”
Refn is neatly dressed and willowy and his elegant silhouette seems like a logical extension of the billowing white curtains and hazy azure backdrop of the Marriott Hotel’s Bulgari rooftop. An auteur and a provocateur, he belongs in Cannes as much as the mega-yachts in the distance – that $200-million dollar boat with the helipad belongs to Steven Spielberg – or the obscenely priced couture on every street corner.
Mind you, the director’s delicate frame and narrow wrists seem at odds with the bruising ultra-violence of his films. His latest gangster picture, Only God Forgives, like many of its predecessors, repeatedly returns to the image of a clenched fist.
“It’s an extension of the erection,” suggests Refn. “It’s male brutality and male entertainment. It’s sex and violence in a single image and gesture. It’s every fight movie. But when you open up a clenched fist into a palm it becomes very feminine and very submissive.”
Remarkably, the film’s leading man, Ryan Gosling, says even less during Only God Forgives than he did during his near-monosyllabic turn in Refn’s Drive. An altogether minimalist experience, the director and actor’s second collaboration ditches the catchy, accessible generic beats of their previous outing for a series of mythological associations. At Cannes the “boo birds” came out in force; then again, at Cannes, the “boo birds” turn out for almost everything.
Refn seems pleased that they did.
“It’s like when Lou Reed had to follow up Transformer,” he says. “Everybody wants another Transformer. But that’s not how art works. Art has to divide. If it doesn’t divide it doesn’t penetrate. And then it becomes nothing more than consumption. People forget that Drive was polarising. Not everybody loved it. But they learned to. What’s happening now is the same process.”