Greetings again from the darkness. For those of us born without the “creative” gene, it can be quite intriguing to get even a quick peek behind the curtain of an at-work auteur or creative genius. Blend in the highly stressful family dynamics of having one’s spouse behind the camera for this peek, and it shoots right past intriguing and into the realm of captivatingly mandatory viewing … and provides double meaning to the title.
Nicolas Winding Refn is the creative force behind such films as Drive (2011) and Bronson (2008). Now elevated from his status as cult-favorite, this behind-the-scenes documentary explores his pressure and anxiety of the next project (Only God Forgives) – one the director proclaims “is not Drive 2”. While that is more than sufficient for a premise, this one adds the unique complexity of having NWR’s wife direct and shoot the documentary. Because of this, we gain a highly unusual look at the added stress of personal and family life, as the whole family (including their two daughters) spends six months in Bangkok.
The film begins with an odd sequence showing legendary director Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) reading tarot cards at the request of NWR. The resulting advice is that success can change an artist’s approach, and in a quite off-setting moment, Mr Jodorowsky directly addresses Liv Corfixen (as she films) and admonishes her to support her man. This certainly sets the stage for the relationship strains during production and up to the Cannes premiere of Only God Forgives.
“How to make a movie” is not the focus here, though we do see the storyboarding and some director-actor interactions (Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas). Rather, the camera lens is aimed at what impact making a movie has on the director and his family. He struggles with “what the audience wants” (more Drive) versus “what the artist wants”. A key line from NWR is “It would be boring if we all made the same films”. And therein lies the motivation and challenge for a true auteur – how to remain true to one’s artistic vision, while still remaining commercially viable (a requirement if one wishes to continue creating).
Ms. Corfixen doesn’t shy away from filming the many moods and insecurities of her husband … sometimes filming him in bed, hinting that remaining there might be an option. We see the confidence of the director on set, but more interestingly, his ups and downs, and his various happy-depressed-angry moments while in the privacy of the family apartment (well as private as it can get with a camera in one’s face).
Being a film director is an odd combination of processes – both collaborative and solitary. Having one’s family along for the ride brings an added challenge that taxes one’s patience. Performing all of this with one’s spouse filming most of it exposes parts of one’s character and make-up that most of us would prefer stay hidden from public consumption. Upon reflection, maybe it is an effective starter kit for “how to make a movie”.
watch the trailer: