Richard Drumm checks out Liv Corfixen’s revealing documentary My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
Part making-of, part portrait-of-the-man; My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is Liv Corfixen’s directorial debut as she documents her husband during the production of Only God Forgives. Light on talking-heads-style interviews but heavy on fly-on-the-wall vignettes from various stages of production, the film gives an insight into the shooting of the film, its premiere in Cannes and beyond. While mainly focusing on Refn, some of his more famous friends naturally make appearances, mainly Ryan Gosling and (more bizarrely) Alejandro Jodorowsky who opens the film with a tarot card reading. Because of course he does.
An issue with these kinds of films is that they always run the risk of feeling like behind-the-scenes documentaries that should just be included on the “main” film’s DVD/BluRay rather than getting a full cinematic release themselves. While Corfixen definitely sets her sights high and tries as hard as possible to make her husband (rather than his film) the subject, the documentary never quite manages to achieve an identity of its own apart from Only God Forgives. That’s not to say it’s a bad little film, it just never quite achieves what Corfiexen was aiming for. The main problem is that the whole endeavour comes across slightly empty and more than a little pretentious. It’s by no means uninteresting but it never manages to elevate beyond that into anything particularly meaningful.
Refn remains an interesting figure in modern cinema however. Given the sense of confidence you get from watching his films, seeing how melancholic and almost crippled with self-doubt he is during the shoot, is quite shocking. (Though it’s reassuring to see that even he isn’t fully sure what Only God Forgives is supposed to be about.) You get brief glimpses into the toll the production is taking on his family and how frustrated his single-mindedness with his career is affecting her but sadly Corfixen never seems to want to push further into these topics. That is of course entirely her prerogative, it is her personal life after all, but perhaps having a truly outside source document their lives would have been more successful in fulfilling what she was attempting.
There’s still some undeniable fun to be had watching the film. Gosling is a perpetually likeable and amusing presence. Seeing himself and Refn dealing with their budgetary shortcomings by planning and executing an appearance at a local festival as if it’s a heist is just hugely enjoyable to see play out. Then of course there’s Jodorowsky who is a fascinatingly weird (if disappointingly infrequent) presence and apparently fond of giving marriage advice via the medium of tarot card readings.
Honestly though, if you’re enough of a cinephile that any of the above names mean anything to you, then this is probably worth a look just for Jodorowsky or the scenes of Refn and Gosling bro-ing out. Much like the film which this is documenting the making of though, it’s ultimately only going to appeal to a niche audience and even then won’t be for everyone. Corfixen definitely seems like someone with something to say about the power-balance in relationships and while this might not have been the best showcase of her skills, she will hopefully, eventually emerge as a filmmaker to watch in her own right.