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Interview: Nicolas Winding Refn Compares 'Only God Forgives' To A Rembrandt, Responds To Critics & More

Photo of Jessica Kiang By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist May 29, 2013 at 2:45PM

There was undoubtedly no film that caused quite the same disproportionate signal-to-noise ratio last week as “Only God Forgives,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s return to Cannes after winning Best Director in 2011 for “Drive.” While to us the extremely polarized reaction felt more to do with the perils of unrealistic expectations (“Drive” was a left-field surprise to many in a way that “Only God Forgives” could simply never have been, given Refn’s different profile this time out), there was a difference of opinion among attending Playlisters about the film, though not one separated by such a wide gulf as elsewhere.
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Valhalla Rising Mikkelsen One Eye
Which of your films does “Only God Forgives” feel most akin to?
Valhalla Rising,” “Drive” and “Only God Forgives” are very similar in their structure and in their character…

You dedicate the film to Jodorowsky, who is all over this festival [his own film “Dance of Reality” showed here, as well as a documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”]. Do you know his reaction?
Yes, he came to the red carpet [premiere] with me and he was very moved.

Moved by the dedication or the film?
I believe both -- he was speechless.

"The film is designed like that, like going to a museum and watching a painting, a Rembrandt, you’re going to see a thousand different elements within a single frame."
The soundtrack to the film is such a huge and distinctive part, tell us about working with Cliff Martinez.
Well, here we had a lot more time to work together and I really enjoy his approach and his music and I’d like to see him very much a part of my future projects. [This time] I brought him in at script stage, also because I needed help with the [Thai karaoke songs that punctuate the narrative] and he knew a lot about that.

And as for upcoming projects, we’re very excited about “I Walk With The Dead” with Carey Mulligan?
Yes, that’s in the drawing boards, it’s looking very good.

And we’ve heard it variously described as a sexy thriller, a horror movie, an all-female film...
All of the above!

So a sexy thriller horror movie with an all female cast?
Exactly.

And Carey Mulligan is still attached?
[Refn nods mysteriously, but when we point out that he’s nodding, he obligingly says into our voice recorder] I’m nodding, I’m nodding.

Any idea when it might shoot?
I have to finish the script first.

We had heard there was already some funding in place...
[Deliberately coy] There are... movements of events.

Albert Brooks Drive
There’s also been talk of you and Gosling doing a comedy together, with Albert Brooks being sought to script?
It’s also on the drawing board. We’ve tried to persuade [Brooks], we can’t get him to do it, we’ve gotta find somebody else. Until he finally agrees to do it.

And your “Barbarella” TV show?
Now I’m writing, hopefully it will shoot early next year?

And how about casting the lead?
I’m attracted to the thought of an unknown.

Have you decided on the aesthetic you’ll use?
Hmm [laughs] a lot of sex and violence. Fetishized sex and violence.

There’s also "Button Man" - is that still happening?
I’m supposed to read a script…

“Drive” writer James Sallis has written a sequel “Driven” for which the movie is said to be in the pipeline. Have you been approached about that at all?
No. It’s never gonna happen. The movie’s not gonna get made, because they don’t have the key elements.

The key elements being you and Gosling?
Yes.

And Gosling wouldn’t think of doing it without you?
I haven’t even thought about that, I mean...

But if it were to go ahead, what would your advice be to the filmmakers?
Don’t do it! Don’t do it. Well, what would they do?

Our precious few minutes up, just before Refn leaves he does mention one other project in response to a question about whether he’d like to further explore Asian culture, by which he was evidently fascinated in “Only God Forgives.” “I’m doing a movie in Tokyo,” he said, but then went on to state that this was not “I Walk With The Dead,” which was for a time rumored to be shooting there. He denied he could let slip any further details, before teasing with “Tok-y-o. I’d love to do a yakuza movie…” Make of that what you will.

“Only God Forgives” has a July 19th release date in the U.S.

This article is related to: Only God Forgives, Cannes Film Festival, Interviews, Interview, I Walk With The Dead, Button Man: The Killing Game, Nicolas Winding Refn


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