MY LIFE DIRECTED BY NICOLAS WINDING REFN (2014, doc)

March 2, 2015

My Life Directed by 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:

 

 


SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (2012)

March 25, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is one of those times where I am going to be somewhat critical of a movie that is based on a book I haven’t read. That doesn’t change my belief that this movie is stuck in the gray area between romantic drama and comedy, and because of it, comes across as just a lightweight film with no real message or emotion. For this, the director Lasse Hallstrom gets the accusatory glance. His history with Chocolat and Dear John are examples of how his fondness for all things mushy gets in the way of real story-telling.

The best parts of this movie are the comedic elements. Stuffy British fish expert Ewan McGregor has some really funny deadpan moments and his inner office battles with his boss wreak of truism. Same with Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary as if she were told this was a screwball comedy. She is funny and over the top, and was probably horrified when she saw the final version of the movie.

 The story is quite creative and interesting – a Yemeni Sheikh (Amr Waked, Syriana) has a vision of creating a vast green-land around a man-made freshwater river where Salmon spawn and feed the community. Unfortunately, the story leaks to the locals that this Sheikh with too much money is playing God just to satisfy his fishing hobby. Local rebels get involved in trying to stop the Sheikh and the project. Meanwhile, this Sheikh spouts off wisdom and advice as if he just finished reading the greatest hits of Confucious.

To bring this fishy project to fruition, the Sheikh enlists the British government’s help and that’s how Ms. Thomas, Mr. McGregor and a wonderful Emily Blunt get involved. We see early on that McGregor is stuck in a loveless marriage to a witch (figuratively speaking) played by Rachael Stirling (who may have the deepest voice of any actress since Lauren Bacall). Blunt’s character is a bit desperate for love and falls quickly for a soldier (Tom Mison) who is shipped off to war. So when Blunt and McGregor first meet … it seems destiny that these two opposites will attract.

 The scenery here is pretty impressive – especially the Scottish castle that houses the team for a brief period. I was just continually frustrated that more insight wasn’t provided into what makes this Sheikh tick. Is he truly the visionary he claims? If so, why? What did the locals really think of the project and was any effort made to deliver the long term vision? If not, why? Why did Blunt fall so quickly for this soldier? Just because they had fun in bed? Seems a bit shallow for someone who can peer into the soul of a nerd like McGregor. And why did McGregor ever fall for this ice-queen he married? Makes no apparent sense.

Simon Beaufoy‘s screenplay of Paul Torday‘s novel delivers a few good chuckles, but mostly leaves us wanting a real direction for the story and bit more depth of character. It’s always frustrating when a promising premise leaves us fighting so hard to swim upstream … just like the salmon and characters of the film.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: if your favorite movie genre is non-descript love stories OR you have been anxiously awaiting a film with a lead character who is a fish expert

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for an expert comedy or an expert love story

watch the trailer: