“Make the movie you want to make, and go with God. There’s nothing else you can really do,” Nicolas Winding Refn told us over the phone last week, as he closes out his year with one last run at U.S. press for “Only God Forgives” as it heads to home video. There’s little doubt he stuck with that rule in making his second film with Ryan Gosling, a dreamy, vicious revenge saga, heavy on mood and thin on dialogue. The picture polarized critics on the Croisette and gave us plenty to talk about. Qhile Refn’s latest was heavily scrutinized, the director himself remained reflective about his second go at Cannes following his Best Director win two years ago for “Drive.”
“What was weird was that the reaction we got to ‘Only God Forgives’ was similar to the reaction of ‘Drive.’ They either loved it or hated it, and in a way, that’s when you know you’ve done something right,” Refn stated. But at the end of the day, the final 90-minute picture isn’t what gives him the most pleasure. Instead, when we asked Refn about the recent traveling retrospective of his work entitled “With Blood On His Hands” (it lands in Toronto next week) he told us he’s learned that making the movie is where he derives the most enjoyment.
“You make the films the way you want to make them, at a specific time in your life and you can never undo that,” he said. “But maybe what you can learn to live with is that that’s how it has to be, and not try to ever change the past. Because, in a way, I’m not really particularly interested in the product, I’m interested in the process.” True to his word, he hasn’t actually seen “Only God Forgives” front to back since the spring “I don’t watch my own films when I’m done them. I think Cannes was the last time,” he shared.
Since the experience of making the picture tends to outweigh filing it down into a finished product, it’s perhaps not surprising that Refn keeps his options open when it comes to what kind of project he’ll do next. “Well, I don’t really know yet, but that’s the fun part. Suddenly you wake up one morning and go, ‘Oh, this is what I what I want to do,’ ” he said. That said, the director does have a career to maintain and as such, he’s got a few irons in the oven.
One of them is a picture set in Japan, one that had been reported as a “Valhalla Rising” prequel (of sorts), something he quickly corrected as a bit of an off-the-cuff comparison that perhaps took on a bit more weight and importance than he intended. Even the mooted title “The Avenging Silence” seemed tentative at best when we asked, and while Refn was cautious about saying too much, he did confirm a Tokyo-set movie was brewing, and he shared why that city intrigued him as a cinematic backdrop.
“A bit like Bangkok, it’s like a world within a world. It’s like traveling to an alien landscape, it’s like going to the Scottish mountains, or Los Angeles at night,” Refn said. “I like to go to places that feel like completely out of my comfort zone. Living in Copenhagen, a very mundane life, it’s like traveling to outer space.”
The mention of outer space also prompted a question about his developing “Barbarella” series, which Refn suggested may (or may not) utilize ideas he had for “Logan’s Run” into the series. Again, while he was wary of spilling too much, he did allow that a decision on the next step for the project would be coming soon. So then, what is he doing before he starts his next picture? Well, one of his jobs is helping Paul Schrader get “The Dying Of The Light” off the ground. It has previously been slated for Refn to direct prior to “Drive,” but it fell apart when star Harrison Ford suddenly had reservations about certain segments of the script. But Refn sees it as a blessing he didn’t make it — because he wound up doing “Drive” instead, and he thinks “The Dying Of The Light” is back where it belongs.
“All along, the best director for this movie is Paul, because it’s his original script, it’s a wonderful script, it’s a wonderful story… I think it’s going to be a much better movie with Paul on it,” Refn stated, adding he has absolutely no regrets about not getting a chance to make it himself. Though the details on the Schrader directed version are still being worked out, Refn is ready to pitch in. “Whatever he needs from to me to help him make the film” is what he’ll provide, the director told us.
So while Refn figures out what will come next, take the opportunity to see “Only God Forgives” again or for the first time, when it arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray on October 22nd.