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Review: Only God Forgives

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The bleeding heart of Bangkok

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- The director of Drive is back on the Croisette with a hallucinatory, poetic and violent film which will baffle his new public but reassure his fans of the first hour.

Review: Only God Forgives

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is back on the Croisette only two years after winning the Best Director's Prize with Drive. Only God Forgives [+see also:
trailer
making of
film focus
interview: Nicolas Winding Refn
film profile
]
is his second collaboration with Ryan Gosling for a project that required a longer gestation period. When Wild Bunch and Gaumont got involved in this production initiated by the company founded by Lene Borglum and Refn (Space Rocket Nation), the project was still an “easy to sell” combat film. But after the huge media attention received by Drive, Refn delved into the screenplay again and immersed himself in the nocturnal mystique of Bangkok. The story evolved, got stripped down, and the film’s geometry took shape. The sharp angles of the shots, just like the filthy and coarse violence, are preponderant in the final result which is at the crossing-point between the universes of Lynch (Lost Highway, Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive) and Melville (Le Samouraï). Less conventional than his last opus, Only God Forgives reconnects with exercises of style like Valhalla Rising [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Nicolas Winding Refn
film profile
]
, Bronson [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and Pusher without, however, taking a step backwards in one of the most impressive filmographies of contemporary European cinema.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

The story is minimalist. Billy (Tom Burke) owns a boxing club in Bangkok with his brothers, which is actually a front for the family's drug trafficking. One night, he is savagely mutilated for having beaten a prostitute to death. His brother Julian (Ryan Gosling) must then face his mother (an icy Kristin Scott Thomas) who comes from the United States to repatriate her son's body and ensure revenge worthy of the name. Julian must then confront a strange vigilante linked to the local police. This man called Chang takes upon himself the nearly sacred mission of eradicating the family of American traffickers. 

Like characters who slowly move along linear trajectories, Refn sets his camera on rails for a slow-motion trip to the depths of hell, a territory haunted by an original soundtrack by Cliff Martinez, always perfectly in phase with the image. Bangkok pulses with a red light that lights ups faces, changing to blue, orange or green, depending on nuances. The staging definitely speaks in place and stead of the characters. Gosling is a model of hermeticism in an archetype that enshrouds him from film to film, a western mirror to his perfect Asian nemesis played by Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm. Only Kristin Scott Thomas exults thanks to dialogues which, like an ice-pick, carve the emotional structure of this mother, original and all-powerful. This black goddess is not safe from the true exterminating angel, the one probably refered to in the title of the film.

Neither Refn nor Gosling have taken an easy path with this author movie as clear and mainstream at the Styx. The final dedication to Alejandro Jodorowsky concludes a poetic reflexion, particularly inhabited by the invisible. Refn claims one of the teachings of his Franco-Chilean spiritual master: to remain loyal to your desire until everything works out. While it started as an easy-to-sell commercial model, Only God Forgives has become a radical work, not easily accessible. It bears witness to the acceptance of a magical universe just as assertive as our apprehension of the real world. One of two things: either Refn has tried to film mystique with realism, or he has offered a filmmaker’s metaphorical view of reality. Just like the God Chang, the spectator will decide. 

(Translated from French)

photogallery

international title: Only God Forgives
original title: Only God Forgives
country: Denmark, France
sales agent: Wild Bunch, Gaumont
year: 2013
directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
screenplay: Nicolas Winding Refn
cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Tom Burke

main awards/selection

Cannes 2013 Official competition
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