by: Jay Carlson
My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn would have been more appropriately titled Me Directing the Life of Nicolas Winding Refn, as this film is a candid look of the Drive director, filmed by his wife, Liv Corfixen (not the other way around) who turns the camera on her husband to document his attempt to follow up the massive critical success of Drive with Only God Forgives.
The film immediately begs to be compared to Hearts of Darkness, the unbelievable documentary compiled of footage shot (sometimes secretly) by Eleanor Coppola of her husband, Francis, as he struggled to make Apocalypse Now.
Hearts of Darkness had the benefit of quite a bit of breathing room, being released twelve years after the release of Apocalypse Now. In that time, Apocalypse Now (and the lore of the harried production) had been discussed at length and the film was a bonafide classic. It’s only been a year since Only God Forgives was released to tepid reviews and the release of this film.
When Hearts of Darkness was released, Coppola had slowed down and was considered to be on the back nine of his career. One of the biggest advantages to My Life is seeing its subject in his prime, allowing himself to be shown in such a delicate artistic state, warts and all. Seeing Refn doubt himself behind closed doors while putting on a strong game face for his cast and crew is compelling stuff. As is another scene that shows him flip-flopping from believing that he’d made a better film than Drive to later on that same day stating that the film is no good and doesn’t work.
The main difference between the My Life and Hearts of Darkness is that we knew going into Hearts of Darkness that Coppola was a genius and one of the greatest directors to ever live. My Life suffers because, even though he’s shown signs of greatness, the jury is still out on Refn. One day, later in his career, we may look back and say Refn was a genius and it’s amazing to have this look inside the man and his process. It’s just too early to tell what he is yet. He’s definitely not Coppola though. (Then again, who is?)
My one major complaint was that the camera wasn’t running more as it seems that Refn didn’t allow his wife to shoot as much as she would have liked. I would have loved to see this film get deeper and give even more into Refn’s psyche.
Ultimately, the film was compelling but didn’t really mine the depths that would put it into the same league as Hearts of Darkness. I’d definitely recommend it as there is still plenty to enjoy in the film.
You can decide for yourself, as My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is out today in select theaters and on demand today!