Grisly, tense, penetrating dramas, Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Pusher” trilogy of character-driven Danish crime films open together at New York’s Cinema Village theater today. The particular movie house holds a special place in Refn’s heart — he fondly recalls seeing his favorite film, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” there when he was 14-years-old.
While the Pusher films aren’t as gory — at least not until the climax of the trilogy — they do convey a similarly barren existentialism. Each of his protagonists are trapped in their own personal hells, surviving moment to moment in an underworld with only more traps at every corner. One could make comparisons to the social portraiture of “The Sopranos” or the gritty realism of “Mean Streets“, but the Pusher films are really their own European beasts, boasting a collection of unseemly E.U. characters all struggling to get along, or rather, fuck each other over. There’s probably a parable about the New Europe hiding somewhere beneath the drugs, beatings, torture, killings and human trafficking. But mostly, it’s just dirty, harrowing fun.
I first met and interviewed Refn at Sundance 2003, where “Fear X,” his first English-language film (a slow-burning nightmarish thriller co-written with Hubert Selby, Jr.) premiered. The movie bombed, bankrupted his production company and got zero traction in U.S. theaters when it was finaly released. But I still have a soft spot for this renegade auteur.
“I never understood why in all other art forms it’s a good thing if it’s interpreted or surprising or different, whereas film has to be more and more prepackaged product,” he told me. “Which is the same reason you have to spend so much time stuffing it down their throats so they’ll see it.”