Documentaries: My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Andrew reviews the short behind-the-scenes documentary on the Danish auteur.

In a recent interview promoting the new Nicolas Winding Refn film The Neon Demon, leading lady Elle Fanning remarked one of the reasons she became interested in working with the neon-fluorescent Danish provocateur was after watching him in his wife Liv Corfixen's revealing behind-the-scenes documentary My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.  I can't help but find that statement highly curious because for as much as I adore the man's work, his awkward personality and his naked passion for film history, I wanted to get as far away from his creative orbit as possible after watching this documentary.  While only nearing an hour in length and something of an overproduced DVD extra that got a standalone release (portions of it featured in the extras for Only God Forgives and the Refn documentary NWR) with limited insight into the auteur's creative process, wife, mother and frequent collaborator Liv Corfixen's documentary gives an idea what it's like to be married to an artist with all the baggage that comes with such a contractual agreement.  Initially assigned to assist in preparing a press kit by moving to Thailand with her family and following every aspect of the production of Refn's Bangkok set Only God Forgives, My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn joins Gambler (the third Refn documentary floating out there) in exemplifying the sheer frustration felt by Nicolas as he struggles with directing the film and the impact it has on his wife who at one point says 'you're not an easy person to live with, but I love you anyway'.

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When I mentioned overproduction, I'm mostly referring to the score by Cliff Martinez which got a standalone vinyl soundtrack release and for as much of a fan as I am of his work, I haven't picked this score up just yet.  It seems like way too much for such a short endeavor which, if you've seen the previous Refn documentaries, doesn't tell you much you don't already know.  Aside from moments such as Refn and Liv getting into tiffs, Refn laying around in bed feeling depressed about the fear of failure, tarot card readings from Alejandro Jodorowsky who may as well be influencing the direction of Refn's career and a confrontational moment where Refn loses his temper and goes off on Liv directly into the camera, I already knew the Danish auteur was a difficult and often tense man to be around from what came before.  Some of it is interesting for completests who want to soak in everything and anything Refn related but this will be the third time I've seen that clip of Ryan Gosling making a goofy stare at the camera when Refn starts talking about the relationship between violence and sex.  Largely in Danish with English subtitles save for a few moments when Refn and Liv break into English, we get an idea of how much of a backseat Liv has taken to her husband's career while at the same time never losing sight of Refn's own devotion to his family.  One of my favorite bits involves Refn reading the negative reviews after the heated Cannes Film Festival screening of Only God Forgives and upon lamenting 'How can they be so mean?', Liv quickly retorts 'In a way, you asked for it.'

Fans of Nicolas Winding Refn will want to check this documentary out if only for a little insight on the often unspoken spousal agreements that go into a film production and the occasional moments of marital strife that can crop up in the process.  It was interesting to note Refn's hotel for his wife and kids wound up becoming the set for the Kristin Scott Thomas character's hotel room, showcasing the director's penchant for using preexisting locations by shooting them in an evocative way.  Some of it feels like the airing out of dirty laundry with a lot of whining and complaining but to her credit Liv remains by Refn's side through thick and thin and it's telling the ending to The Neon Demon is dedicated to Liv.  Casual fans expecting hijinks on the level of Eleanor Coppola's Hearts of Darkness are in for a disappointment as what's here is mostly behind closed doors or bedside bickering with Refn wrestling with depression over the pros and cons of his latest project.  Overall it didn't wallow in stress in the manner the damn near unwatchable Gambler did but it gives a pretty good impression of just how much angst there can be for all involved in the art of film production.


- Andrew Kotwicki