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Nicolas Winding Refn

Copenhagen Cowboy – Nicholas Winding Refn (series) (2022/3)

In six slow paced episodes, accompanied by a 1980’ies style synth score, we follow the expressionless Miu, usually wearing a high collar tracksuit. Miu is the quiet helper who seems to have deep waters. Sounds like a Refn, right?

It is easy to make comparisons to Refn’s other work, especially “Drive“. Some think that his “thing” has been worn out. There indeed are not really surprises when you are familiar with Refn’s work. On the other hand, it is not often that I get to see new material that is interesting to watch, so “thing” or not, I enjoyed watching the “Netflix original” “Copenhagen Cowboy”.

So, Miu is a quite woman who is not easily disturbed. Not even when she as an immigrant ends up in a Danish brothel ran by country mates. When she gets out, she lands in the dark underground of another immigrant community. Ever unshaken she makes an effort to help people.

In his familiar long camera shots, very slow pace, little dialogue, no explanation and an occasional outburst of violence, Refn takes us through a story of which it remains unclear if it really is a story or rather a collection of scenes. The atmosphere is similar to other works as is the approach.

The Neon Demon * Nicolas Winding Refn (2016)

The latest Refn has more than one comparison to David Lynch’ “Mullholland Drive”. It is about a young girl trying to find her way in a poisonous, glamerous world (here modeling instead of film), the film is slow, weird, minimalistic with strange, surrealistic scenes and a story that does not quite ‘fit’. Even the minimalistic dialogues that Lynch likes to use can be found in “The Neon Demon”, but of course Refn is also a master of minimalism. Also in both films are high-contrast and bright images. Fear not, though, “The Neon Demon” is not a Lynch clone, it is very much, and very recognisably so, a Refn. He works a lot with face closup and the somewhat industrial soundtrack bring enlarged emotions which worked out pretty well.

The 16-year-old orphan from Georgia, Jesse, goes to LA to try to find her way into the world of modeling. She is immediately picked up as highly promising, this to the dismay of colleages / competitors. Being alone in a big city and in a poisonous world, Jesse is bounced between insecureness and overly-securedness.

The film is ‘normal scenes’ and also experimental scenes, quite like “Under The Skin” that I saw a day earlier. These scenes play in clubs, but also (as it seems) in Jesse’s head. Also the story develops towards a bloody mess.

When you know Refn, the film will have no big surprises. Perhaps it is stranger than his previous work. “The Neon Demon” is a very entertaining film if you enjoy the odd corner of filmmaking.

Only God Forgives * Nicholas Winding Refn (2013)

My my, what a cool film Refn delivered again. Julian is an American criminal living in Bangkok and together with his brother Billy runs drug traffic under supervision of his mother living in America. His brother proves to be a dirty bastard and gets killed. Since ‘only God forgives’ Julian and his mother set out for revenge, but each in their own way. They underestimate their opponent though.
“Only God Forgives” is a much like Refn’s previous film “Drive“. The main character is the same. The approach is the same, meaning that “Only God Forgives” is again minimalistic and extremely slow, but still a thriller, an action-thriller even. The camera work is great and there are more Lynch-like dark scenes in this latest film. Also again we have a few very violent outbursts. Yep, there are many things that “Drive” and “Only God Forgives” have incommon. The newest film is a little less predictable story-wise, has an equally good score, but (of course) less originality. Still I think that both will remain some of my favourite films for a while to come.

Fear X * Nicholas Winding Refn (2003)

Waiting for the upcoming “Only God Forgives”, I got myself an old film of Refn. “Fear X” has the Refn style I guess, a very slow-paced thriller. Security guard Harry’s wife got killed, apparently without reason. Obsessed with finding the murderer, just to ask: “why”, Harry spends all his time watching security tapes which certainly will contain the man he is looking for. Then the police puts him on the trail of a place where Harry and his wife spent holidays and Harry sets out with a few good leads.
“Fear X” has, like I said, a very slow pace, a minimalistic story, little dialogue, nicely dark ‘Lynchian’ scenes, a wonderfull minimalistic soundtrack created by Brian Eno and a couple of great hallucinary scenes.
Indeed, a good film of Nicholas Winding Refn.

Drive * Nicholas Winding Refn (2011)

It was a good weekend film-wise. Somehow inspite of the not very easy previous film “Walhalla Rising”, everybody seems to have seen and liked the latest Refn. “Drive” is not too common though, so perhaps it is a bit strange that the larger audience embraces it. Perhaps “Drive” is going to be the new “Pulp Fiction” which was something completely new when it came out, but most people agree that it is a modern classic. In any case, “Drive” came out to be a very slow action thriller. This indeed sounds strange, but it is exactly what it is. We follow a “driver” with different sides. In the first scene he is the driver of a getaway car, but after that he is an overly friendly neighbour, but it is very clear that he harbours deep waters. His darker side comes floating up when he gets involved in a situation that runs out of hand. A dark thriller with a few very violent outburst develop, but still mostly in a very slow pace. Refn worked out his idea perfectly and managed to make a very slow, but lively film with alternating speed, good use of music, good acting and inspite of the very thin and predictable story, a well-structured film. Indeed, “Drive” has the elements to become a classic.

Bleeder * Nicolas Winding Refn (1999)

Not exactly a feel-good-movie, this oldie of Nicholas “Bronson” Refn. We follow a few young (and less young) people reflecting on their boring lives. We in particular watch Leo who finds his already shitty life going down the drain when his girlfriend gets pregnant again and insists on keeping the baby. Something snaps in Leo and he looses it. “Bleeder” is a rather depressive film which confrontates the viewer with the dullness of ‘normal life’ which tends to become a prison. Leo’s reaction is not entirely unexpected, just somewhat out of proportion. The film itself is alright, there are some funny camera experimentations which add to the viewing experience.

Valhalla Rising * Nicolas Winding Refn (2009)

The first time I heard of this film I asumed that it would be yet another Viking spectacle with a thin story making a bad history lesson. Later I heard that this is not the case. Indeed, “Valhalla Rising” is far from being a Viking epic, in fact, I wonder why this film is so well-known. Is it because the director (Nicholas “Bronson” Refn) or did the director manage to get a big promotion budget or a large distributor? In any case, “Valhalla Rising” is an extremely slow, very minimalistic and a pretty dark film. There are almost no conversations, nothing much really happens, but when something does happen, Refn created pretty damn violent (but not very explicit) scenes. Especially the first chapter may cause some people to refrain from continue to watch. We follow a one-eyed traveller (a reference to Odin?) who eventually sets out with a group of Christian converts to find the Holy Land. Some overly popular ideas about Vikings (actually the people concerned seem to have been Saxons, or at least, inhabitents of the British isle) and whatever there is of a story is not too strong, but the film has a nice, dark atmosphere. Unfortunately also in that perspective it is not entirely convincing which overall makes the film just nice. Something different for sure, especially when you (also) expect a Viking spectacle.

Bronson * Nicolas Winding Refn (2008)

Somebody knows my taste better than myself! I thought this film was about the film-actor Charles Bronson and therefor was not very high up on my priority list. In fact, “Bronson” is about a man who decided to become famous while being in prison. The larger part of his life, he spent behind bars, the prison he regarded as a hotel where he could optimise his techniques. Assaulting prison personnel (especially the swat teams) he soon got the name of being the most violent inmate in the UK. Bronson decided that this was not enough…
“Bronson” has a unique mix of elements making it a very original film. A Lynchian opening, theatre, a weird surrealistic atmosphere and pitch-black humour. The film is (in my opinion) not as violent as is sometimes suggested. In fact, there is more than one conformity with “Chopper” by Andrew Dominik in story. “Bronson” is more strange though.

Pusher * Nicolas Winding Refn (1996)

PusherMuch older than I thought. There are even parts II (2004) and 3 (2005) and an American remake (2007) of this film. Well… it is not that good. We see the drug-scene of København (Copenhagen, Denmark) with a “pusher”, his clients, suppliers, etc. Of course things do not go as planned, so we get a crime film with some action and humour. The film is mostly funny for its weird characters and the story is not even that bad for a film in this genre.