Written by: Ben
I am almost surprised to say that I have not only seen multiple documentaries at this year’s fest, but also that I am a fan of them all too. This one in particular is one I was really excited for as a guys who’s always been a fan of directors and production itself, and of course of the subject himself, Nicolas Winding Refn. He has become a very prolific director over time and has met with some very mixed reviews, namely for the film that this documentary documents, Only God Forgives. It’s something interesting to see so I was more than open to seeing how his wife documented the production.
The documentary starts with a focus on their family life as they reside in their “new home” in Bangkok that they will reside in for the duration of the production. Refn, his wife (the director)Living Corfixen and their two daughters left their home in Denmark since the time apart for the production of Drive was a huge strain on them. We also quickly realize that the success of Drive and desire to do something very different and artistic is weighing heavily on Refn as well. Corfixen documents his frustration with the expectations based off his last movie, the limits of his time and budget for the film as well as his higher concept for Only God Forgives not truly connecting with others on the production and in the press. It’s that frustration and it’s impact on him and his family who have traveled to be with him that truly drives the story and makes it interesting.
The personal drama on display is what I think is the strongest feature of this documentary compared to other production documentaries. As his frustration gets the best of him Refn enters into some times of heavy depression and disconnect from his family. This also highlights underlying family conflicts, namely how Corfixen takes care of the children and the home while also wanting and needing to focus on her career, which is made difficult by Refn’s career and and the effect his work has on him. It feels like none of that personal element was left on the cutting room floor, which they easily could’ve for more focus on the production, and that is a welcome openness that really engages you. Mixing in his friendship with and admiration of the famed Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky and some of his interesting personality as well was even a fun mix. The personal touch truly is the best, especially when it is such an interesting life to get that close personal look at.
The time spent on the production is much smaller, at times for better though also frequently for worse. The documentary runs at a short 58 minutes in total and truly the majority is on the personal life stuff, despite being sold as a production doc. What we do get of the production though is an interesting look at how Refn’s onset person varies from himself at home (both just being with his family and when discussing the production) as well as how he looks at the writing and filmmaking as a whole. What was also great was just the time’s with him and Ryan Gosling or when Gosling is with the family as it is clear the two are great friends and that Gosling might as well be family for them. Again, these personal moments are what are really great here and some great insight, and that also makes it a flaw to not be shown more of it when the film certainly wasn’t running long. It ends up leaving you feeling a bit short changed on what was promised and shown to be available there as Refn clearly has a very interesting style and mindset to his filmmaking that I really would’ve loved to see more of.
This is a solid documentary, especially for being Corfixen’s first time directing one that has some great promise and some wonderful insight into the life and personality of it’s subject. It’s a shame that it doesn’t take the time to show more of the actual production when it runs at a fairly short duration already, but in the end what you get is quite interesting. If you have any interest in the life of Nicolas Winding Refn and/or into how he writes and directs his films then you’ll certainly enjoy this, but if you are just interested in an interesting production doc like Heart of Darkness then you will be likely let down by this one.