When news of Liv Corfixen’s making-of documentary on her husband Nicolas Winding Refn’s critically lambasted Only God Forgives landed, there was a smattering of discontent over whether or not Refn was “deserving” enough of a (second, following Phie Ambo’s 2006 Gambler) examination of his creative process. But what shape would a film following a “deserving” director take? A stale victory lap of a lauded auteur’s successes? It would be difficult to think of any subject more dull.
Concerns about Refn’s worthiness of another behind-the-scenes doc should be swept away by the film’s opening moments, when his mentor Alejandro Jodorowsky offers to him a tarot reading on the young filmmaker’s future film. According to the cards, says Jodorowsky, Refn worries too much about “success.” Corfixen shrewdly zeros in on this central anxiety—that no matter what Refn does, his follow-up to his 2011 international smash-hit Drive will inevitably disappoint. It may be a bit of a misnomer to label My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn a making-of feature. With Corfixen at the helm, it’s unabashedly about the Refn family’s move to Bangkok for the principal photography of Only God Forgives, and the unavoidable tension this places on the couple’s marriage.
As expected, Corfixen’s unfettered access to Refn, even in his less-than-flattering moments, are the highlights of the film. Refn goes through the motions of production, including a great sequence in which the director explains to his leading man Ryan Gosling that “violence is like sex” because “it’s all about the build-up.” A comically stunned Gosling turns to Corfixen’s camera, and asks, “Did you get that?” As the production wraps up and editing begins, Refn obsesses over the reception his film will get during its Cannes premiere. As Refn reels between loving and hating his current feature (sometimes on the same day), Corfixen is always on hand to call out her husband’s tantrums—after all, she’s also a creative type, but manages to keep her ego in check enough to successfully juggle her career with being a wife and mother.
Clocking in at just under an hour, the substance of My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is fleeting but fascinating. Some (this writer included) may be disappointed that more time wasn’t devoted to the making-of drama behind the scenes of his latest flop. But Corfixen’s conclusion that Refn can be “a difficult man to live with, but I love [him] anyway,” teases out the strange collusions between being in love and making art (or at least, very stylish entertainment).