Nicolas Winding Refn • Director
“Art is an act of violence”
by Fabien Lemercier
- Nicolas Winding Refn unveils a few "making-of" secrets of his hyper-stylized and very dark Only God Forgives
Surrounded by actress Kristin Scott Thomas, producer Lene Borglum, editor Matthew Newman and composer Cliff Martinez, and after Thierry Frémaux, General Delegate of the Cannes Film Festival, read out a warm message from Ryan Gosling, who is currently in Detroit working on his first feature film as a director, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn unveiled a few "making-of" secrets to the international press of the hyper-stylized and very dark Only God Forgives [+see also:
interview: Nicolas Winding Refn
film profile], presented in competition on the Croisette.
The film's first production notes indicate that it was about a man who wanted to fight God. What brought you to this Greek tragedy in Asia?
Nicolas Winding Refn: I had a deal with Gaumont and Wild Bunch to make two small budget films, and the first became this combat story in Thailand. I am not a fan of combat movies, but I was in an existentialist phase in my life with anger that I could not channel. I said to myself that the only answer might be God and I had to defy him. But a more linear story was needed. I therefore added a devouring mother, a mother-son relationship and a character who believes he is God. Then I started working on Drive and I left Only God Forgives aside. We then had to postpone filming for a few months because of Ryan Gosling’s schedule, I cast Kristin Scott Thomas for the part and I left for Thailand. It was an interesting experience for the film that I wanted to make on reality and mysticism. Because I realised that spirituality has a different connotation in Asia.
How did you approach the subject of spirituality?
The original screenplay was very logical and explained mysticism a lot. In the West, we are mostly concerned with concrete facts. By spending time in Asia, I discovered that the definition of travel is already a journey in itself. The film presents the differences between paradise and hell.
Why is the film dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky?
Jodorowsky always put mythological creatures of sorts in his films. I had the opportunity to meet him a few years ago and he became a friend. I have always been fascinated by his cinematographic language that goes beyond conventions. After Drive, Bronson and Valhalla Rising, I wanted to do something different. I went to see Jodorowsky in Paris, I asked him how he went about things, we talked, and it gave me confidence.
Ryan Gosling has very little dialogue and the characters of Chang and Crystal are very important. Why?
The idea behind Julian’s character is that of a man engaged in a sort of journey whose goal is unclear. He is tied to his mother by invisible chains, a kind of curse from which he cannot free himself except by reaching a certain degree of violence. I told Ryan Gosling to do what he wanted. And the language of silence can be more poetic. Finally, in the movie, people don’t ask themselves who they are but rather who they are not. There are subliminal images pretty much everywhere and a dimension-off of unreality.
How did you direct the movement and space?
Movement is essential for an actor, just like costumes. After Drive, Ryan Gosling and I chose another way of dealing with his movement, like sleepwalkers who walk in a particular way, as if they were floating. For Chang’s character, it was about knowing how God would walk if he were amongst us. There is very little dialogue, whilst in our society we are used to speaking and a rapid flow of information. As for space, I like an infinite depth of field and working on backgrounds.
Is the extreme violence in the film justified?
Art is an act of violence, it speaks to our subconscious. I don’t really think a lot. You could say I have the approach of a pornographer: what excites me is what interests me. Our very birth leads us to violence. Then, it is somewhat suppressed over the years, but we need to express it and art is a way to accomplish that.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.