Ghosts, Pornographic Cock Talk, Bitch Switches & Art & Violence As Penetration: Highlights From The ‘Only God Forgives’ Cannes Press Conference

Ghosts, Pornographic Cock Talk, Bitch Switches & Art & Violence As Penetration: Highlights From The ‘Only God Forgives’ Cannes Press Conference

Only God Forgives,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest collaboration with Ryan Gosling, just let out in Cannes this morning and the conversations on Twitter are heated and polarizing. There’s either love or loathing in the air and not a lot in between. Many are remarking that it’s similar in tone to Refn and Gosling’s last team-up in “Drive.” This stands to reason as Gosling himself told us earlier in the year, “It’s very extreme. It’s part of the same dream as ‘Drive,’ but it’s more of a nightmare than a dream… So that’s what happens when you let Nicolas loose in Thailand. There’s no one around to put the reins on and he’s completely unleashed.”

Our reviewer was somewhat in the middle, giving it a B-grade and noting that it “stretches Refn’s neon-noir style over too little oedipal, amoral substance” (for a counterpoint take it should be noted that Playlister Kevin Jagernauth apparently loved it). Either way, it’s the talk of Cannes at the moment both in the online and terrestrial space. The press conference — sadly without Gosling’s presence — just let out at the Croisette as well. With Refn, Kristin Scott Thomas and producers in tow, the director let loose, letting his sometimes hilarious, often insightful discussions about his various freak flag fetishes out in the air. One things for sure. Refn doesn’t need a therapist, that’s what movies and press conferences talking about those movies are for. Here’s 9 highlights.

“Only God Forgives” was supposed to shoot before “Drive” and it was supposed to originally star Luke Evans.
The film began as an idea about a man who wanted to fight god and that quickly morphed into the movie it is now: a crime thriller about an exiled gangster living in Bangkok who’s compelled to avenge his brother’s death by his wicked mother. Refn said to secure his financing he simply had to pitch an idea before he had a story so he thought, “a fight movie set in Thailand, because I thought that was going to be an easy sell and they bought it.”

Refn then went on to write the script and noted he wasn’t really a fan of fight films ironically. “I was going through a very existentialistic time,” he said. “My wife was pregnant with our second daughter and it had been a very difficult period. And there was a lot of anger and violence in me, but I didn’t know how to channel it out, but I thought if someone has answers to existential problems, it must be God. I challenge you.”

“So I came up with this mother character that devours everything. And so it really became more of a mother and son story. But the key to unfold that story was this character who believes he’s God (Chang played by Vithaya Pansringarm).” Refn had cast the movie with Kristin Scott Thomas and Luke Evans in the lead part, but decided to make “Drive” instead. “The day after Cannes, this unknown actor drops out of my movie to to go do ‘The Hobbit,’” Refn said throwing some shade Evans’ way. “So it was like ‘fuck,’ but I was in L.A. then and Ryan said [with a shrug], ‘I’ll do it,’ so I was like, ‘Great!’”

Nicolas Winding Refn’s daughter saw a ghost in Bangkok and this experience informed the film.
“Then we went to Thailand and there I had the real experience about making the film in terms of wanting to make something about mysticism and reality. It really came down to when our daughter was born she had the ability to see ghosts,” he said. “We were in an apartment in Bangkok and she kept up screaming and pointing to the wall. I called the Thai production manager and said, ‘I believe there’s a ghost in our house.’ If I did that in Europe I would be crucified, but here she said, “Oh, ok,” and she came by a half an hour later with a Shaman who cleansed the room. But I really realized that spirituality, mysticism and reality has a different meaning in Asia and that’s when I realized that’s the kind of movie I wanted to make.

Like “Drive,” the film’s lead is taciturn and Refn spoke about virtues of “the language of silence.”
“The idea of the Julian [Ryan Gosling] character was a man who was on a journey, but he didn’t know what he was moving towards,” Refn explained. “Ryan and I talked a lot about the concept of the sleepwalker, which is a very mythological creature, and that he is destined to move, but doesn’t know where he’s going. So we realized that he’s, of course, bound to the chains of his mother’s womb and that’s his curse. And so in order for him to release that he needs to go through certain levels of violence.”

So how does one play that idea? Gosling himself asked the director, “What do I say?” Refn said, “Maybe the language of silence is much more stronger and interesting and poetic and it helps us to make a film where it’s not where we ask, ‘what are you?,’ but more, ‘what are you not?’” And so that [suggested] that we had to have subliminal images all the way through. Then it became monologues from Kristin Scott Thomas or dialogues from the Thai actors, but it kind of added some off dimension things all seemed real, but there was an unrealness.”

Kristin Scott Thomas had no problem turning on her “bitch switch.” She also curses like a Stevedore in the film.
“I hope we never will [hear it] again,” Thomas said about a line in the film where her character compares her two son’s… manhood that contains a lot of f-bombs and foul language. “A lot of the language that happens appeared while we were shooting it. If it was written and prepared the way in advance, I think it would have been terrified, but the confidence that was building between all of us allowed us to go beyond these taboos things and break certain barriers. It was all a bit mad, really.”

And yes, it’s a big gear shift for the actress who usually plays someone more aristocratic. “When I first read the script I was quite excited about playing someone away from the upper class thing that English people seem to love to see me in,” she said. “But as it developed, the character became more and more despicable.”

“She had no problem turning on the bitch switch,” Nicolas Winding Refn interjected with a laugh. “It’s frighteningly easy,” she laughed. “Every day we got braver. What’s worse?”

The worst thing you can call a woman? A “cum dumpster.”
Like Kristen Scott Thomas said, the cast and director’s confidence soared so they became trying to push the envelope where ever they could. “Every day was like, ‘what can we say?’ ‘What’s worse?’ I remember asking Ryan, ‘what’s the worst thing you can call a woman in America?’” Refn recalled. “And he goes, ‘Oh, call her a cum dumpster.’ OK, alright, cum dumpster.”

“I couldn’t say that word, it took me about eight takes to say it,” Thomas said and when asked by Refn if she could say it on the spot she demurred instead. 

And there’s talk about the men’s cocks too.

Bromance bros Refn and Gosling shared an apartment in Bangkok during production and would discuss and pour over the dialogue before they shot. “Dialogue can actually hurt the poetry of a film because [this film is] supposed to be all about interpretation whereas dialogue is very logical,” Refn said. “Images and sound are very emotional, so it’s finding the balance of that language.”

“So we would sit around and go, ‘what would be interesting for a mother to humiliate her son?’ and we started talking about our cocks. And when two guys start talking about their cocks it becomes extremely masculine. But when you have your mother talking about it becomes extremely unmasculine. So were were like, “Ok, that’s going to work. KST, listen to this.’ ”

Violent movies are not Kristin Scott-Thomas’ favorite types of movies at all, but she loved Refn’s “Bronson”
“This kind of film is really not my thing,” she stressed. “Films where this kind of violence happens, I don’t enjoy watching them at all. What appealed to me was working with Nicolas. When I saw ‘Bronson’ before I met him and I thought it was just the most beautiful thing. And it was an incredibly moving film about some very violent acts, but there was something deeply emotional and troubling in it which appealed to me enormously. So when I read the screenplay, I was excited about playing someone different.”

Asked whether she thought she was joining a man’s world, she said she didn’t think of it that way at all. “When you’re asked to do a film like this, you forget about how something’s hyper violent and disturbing, I really thought about how interesting it was going to work with him and to play this wild savage person, so I didn’t really think it was a boy’s thing or not. “

Justifying your violence
As you might have expected about a movie about revenge, dead brothers, an angel of death ex-policeman and a mother that wants you to smite all opponents, “Only God Forgives,” like “Drive” is violent and also contains moments of stylized violence. One of the reporters asked Refn why the movie was so violent and asked him to justify its existence in the movie.

“Oh god, sounds like my mother,” Refn half joked, half groaned. “Art is an act of violence, art is about penetration, it’s about speaking to our subconscious and our needs at different levels. It’s a hard question to answer because I don’t really think about what I do very much, I approach things very much like a pornographer: it’s about what arouses me. Certain things turn me on more than other stuff and I can’t suppress that need and that’s how it usually ends up like that.”

“I don’t consider myself a very violent man, I would die if someone even looked at me [with] evil,” he further explained, “But I surely have a fetish for violent emotions and violent images and I just can’t explain where it comes from, but I do believe that through art, its a way to exorcise certain things in you and from a viewer, it’s the reverse. We must not forget that human beings when they were created were very violent… mostly based on our instinctual needs to survive, but over the years our physicality no longer needs violence, but we still have the urge when we’re born — because that’s a violent act — so we still have more of a mental and spiritual need for it that we exorcise when we watch [these images.]”

“This is probably the best way to answer this question my mother is going to ask me in a half an hour,” he quipped.

Refn loooves TV
Also, further evidence that Refn doesn’t need a therapist since he gets out all his obsessive yah yahs in press conferences it seems. Asked if he would ever consider moving to television — the interviewer not aware he’s already doing so with a “Barbarella” show — Refn was effusive in his love for the medium. “I’m a TV junkie,” he said, “And I was a junkie ever since I was little. I love the size of them, I love to watch them. I love to touch them, I love the remote control, I love the power of the remote control,” he said.

Like Soderbergh said in Cannes and many other filmmakers have recently noted, Refn said TV is quickly eclipsing movies creatively and with its power to tell, long and deep stories. “Sometimes [TV] is much more satisfying than anything around you, “he said. “There are shows that I can obsessively watch for hours.

“Because of the way things are moving and the financing of films, television has become where a lot of [filmmakers] seek creativity in terms of challenges because it’s open up a whole new arena. The structure and storytelling of TV has evolved that you can now make 13 hour movies now a days. Episodic television is almost now part of the past.”

Refn also noted that Gaumont, the European financiers of “Only God Forgives,” approached him to remake “Barbarella” as a feature length film, but he was the one suggested doing it as a TV show. “That will be my first foray into television.”

The divisive “Only God Forgives” is the talk of Cannes at the moment and it comes out via Radius Films on July 19 in North America.

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Comments

Manny

Refn is a better huckster than PT Barnum. How else could he convince people that what they need as a movie experience is to be crapped on. There's a sucker born every minute.

j

His movies are pretty good, but Refn is so pretentious and arrogant – he spouts more bullsh*t than anyone i've ever heard.

DomizianoA

I couldn't agree more with last comment: also one clear (for me) side to this press junket so honestly reported on here: hope we all realize how Refn targets feelings through provocations! Not all he says it's obviously the truth, or better.. what he truly believes, but he's saying a deeper concept through a metaphor of his global vision, and that is moral genius!

Anonymouse

refn is wonderfully kooky. we need big studios to take more chances with directors like him who take chances even if they produce duds every third or fourth film. unlike, say, j.j. abrams who makes cookie cutter films americans seem to enjoy more.

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