While in NYC to promote his new film, Only God Forgives, I had the chance to sit down with Nicolas Winding Refn for an exclusive, 1 on 1 interview. Though it’s not receiving as much praise as his last effort, Drive, Only God Forgives is still a great film, one that is visually stunning and very much in line with the director’s previous work.
During the interview, which took place at the Mandarin Oriental hotel this week, Refn talked about working with Ryan Gosling again, how he treats violence in his films, what he’s working on next, and more.
Check out the full interview below:
One of the things that the film is being attacked for is the brutal, gritty, realistic violence, which surprises me because isn’t the job of a filmmaker to deliver the most realistic portrayal of human life as possible on the screen? It would be worse if it came off as phony wouldn’t it?
Nicolas Winding Refn: I’m surprised at the criticisms because there isn’t a lot of violence in the movie.
But when it happens it hits hard.
Nicolas Winding Refn: Yes but that’s what violence has to be, or else it is just empty and then it becomes even more dangerous.
How did you come up with some of those more brutal scenes, like the one where the guy has his eyes and ears removed?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well I had the idea that if God was to take away your functions as a human being, if he had created you, he would start by taking away your sight and your hearing. That completely de-humanizes you.
Your films are always punctuated by these brief but intense splashes of violence, which is different from more mainstream action/thriller films. Why do you do that, as opposed to placing a steady amount of violence throughout?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Violence is like sexuality. Climaxing only lasts for a few seconds. But the shorter and faster it is, the more effective it is.
As a screenwriter, it must be a huge challenge to tell a story without much dialogue, like you do here. Did you choose not to include much dialogue to challenge yourself?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well I really like non-dialogue at the moment. I’ve made a few films like that now. Drive had very little dialogue and Valhalla Rising had none. It’s an exciting medium to work in though. As a director, you use other elements of the process a lot more, because you’re more in need of them since there’s no dialogue to convey the logics of normality. So sound, music, images, they all become much more a part of the storytelling process. I take a great joy in the creativity of it. I don’t have an interest in the result, I have an interest in the process.
Your films are visually stunning, using things like light filters and shadow effects – do those appear in the script or do you come up with that stuff on set?
Nicolas Winding Refn: A lot of it comes when we are staging it. I don’t do storyboards, I try to do as little planning as I can beforehand. When you block it out with the actors you just find a way to shoot it. I just go with what arouses me, it’s very instinctual, that’s where the pleasure is. It’s in the instinctual approach.