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Nicolas Winding Refn • Director

“In every man is a 16-year-old girl”


- Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who has become something of a cult hit, proudly chats about his ruthless and horrific portrayal of beauty today, The Neon Demon

Nicolas Winding Refn • Director

At the 2016 Cannes Film Festival he scandalised audiences and divided the press with The Neon Demon [+see also:
film review
Q&A: Nicolas Winding Refn
film profile
, but failed to win over the jury and returned home empty-handed. Yet Nicolas Winding Refn is not broken up about it. The Danish director, who became something of a cult hit with Drive (which won the Best Director Award at Cannes), proudly chats about his ruthless and horrific portrayal of beauty today. The Neon Demon is being released today in France (with The Jokers/Le Pacte) and Italy (with Koch Media), on 10 June in the Scandinavian countries, and somewhere between 23 June and mid-July in the rest of Europe, the United States and Canada. Cineuropa attended the masterclass/interview held yesterday by the controversial and well-loved director at the University of Languages and Media in Milan. Below is a glimpse into the way Refn’s mind works in an account of his chat with the students, led by Gianni Canova, Sky Cinema critic.

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Reactions at Cannes
Nicolas Winding Refn: I wasn’t expecting reactions, I’m the reaction. The Neon Demon is the future, a film that looks into the future. I think there’s a battle raging between creativity and the future of entertainment, which will be fought above all over the Internet. I’m a narcissist, and being a narcissist is tantamount to having endless amounts of creativity. I like seeing the classics and destroying everything that is classic.

Alejandro Jodorowsky said: “Nicolas is simply an artist, he saved me from film depression”
I think I was very lucky to be born with the handicap of dyslexia. I couldn’t read or write until I was 13 years-old. When I was little we moved to New York and I didn’t understand the language, I could only understand what I could see. That’s why film was such a natural path in life for me. I wasn’t good at sports, I can’t sing or dance, and I’m also colour-blind. I didn’t have a girlfriend until I was 24. But all these things honed my creativity, and the blank canvas before me was film.

Identifying with characters in films
There’s certainly a bit of a sadomasochist in me. My first films were about capturing authenticity, everything revolved around my ego and my life. Films have become an extension of myself, there’s sadism in being so self-referential. Now I’m completely reliant on my wife, Liv Corfixen. If you want to make it in life and you’re a man, it’s a good idea to have a strong woman by your side.

What is The Neon Demon about, the cult of celebrity or the fetishism of images?
I get close to what I would like to see, it’s like I’m moving constantly on the basis of how I feel. I woke up one morning and realised that I wasn’t born a looker, of course. My wife is beautiful, and I started wondering what it’s like to be born beautiful. I imagined the film from the point of view of a teenager who is obsessed with beauty. Because I’m convinced that in every man is a 16-year-old girl. And then I started exploring images of women. In real life I’ve always liked vintage Barbie dolls and everything that is feminine. All my previous films have been building up to this, The Neon Demon.

Is Elle Fanning the perfect Barbie doll?
I couldn’t find an actress with all the qualities necessary for the film. My wife saw a film with Elle in it and thought she was really good. Then I saw some photos of her in a magazine, and decided that she was the one. She agreed to the film in just a few minutes. She was 16; she celebrated her 17th birthday during filming, and turned 18 at Cannes, where she was the beauty queen of the Festival! What must it be like to be Elle? Fantastic! Her and Ryan Gosling: it’s like a ménage à trois without the sex. 

The fascination of violence
Of course a part of you is exorcised through violent images. The aesthetics of violence become interesting when it is eroticised: it excites us and repulses us at the same time, but we start to feel something. Sex and violence: creativity boils down to these two things. I often wonder why I don’t have sex scenes in my films: it’s because I have sex, so I don’t feel the need to show it on screen. It’s the opposite with violence though; I don’t experience it so I have to imagine it.

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(Translated from Italian)

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