My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Liv Corfixen, wife of the man who made the critically acclaimed “Drive,” takes control of the camera and documents the creative process of her husband’s work while shooting “Only God Forgives” for six months in Bangkok, Thailand.

“My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn” is a documentary that is unnecessary, unfocused, and not completely engaging. What I liked about it, however, is that it shows some of the trials of being in charge of a movie. That is, being a director is not exactly a glamorous job. It is full of stresses which involve finances, having only a limited time to shoot certain scenes depending on location, and there is always a concern about whether the final product would be received well by critics and audiences.

Director Corfixen is a passive director in that she fails to ask her subject the difficult questions. For example, Refn emphasizes that he does not want to make the same movie as “Drive” and so he tries to make a less commercial picture as a follow-up. As the director of this documentary, it is Corfixen’s responsibility to drill the subject with questions about expectations, his definition of success, or what makes a great film despite criticisms or acclaim. It is most frustrating that Corfixen always treats Refn as her husband first and as a subject second—if at all. Thus, why make the documentary at all?

We get some behind-the-scenes look of “Only God Forgives” which is neat at times because it is a chance to see how Refn works with equipments, the crew, and actors. But there is not enough of these. There are more scenes shot in the hotel which would not have been a problem if Refn had something interesting to say on a consistent basis. There is a lot of laying about in bed and shots of the children running around or playing. Once in a while we observe Refn about to break due to the stress of having to put the film together. Prior to day one of shooting, he admits to not having an idea what the movie is really about.

The saving grace of this documentary is Ryan Gosling. There is something about him that just commands attention. He doesn’t need to say anything—which actually says a lot. There is a funny bit about Refn explaining to his lead the parallels between violence and sex. Gosling looks at the camera every time there is an opportunity for a dirty joke. This film ought to have more playful moments like that—fluctuations to prevent the audience from falling asleep. Director Alejandro Jodorowsky also makes an appearance.

Bottom line: the documentary is supposed to be about Refn. Although Gosling and Jodorowsky appearing in the film is fun, I did not feel as though I got to know Refn as a person or a director in a substantial way. Based on this, the film falls short.

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