The path an artist takes can be a long, hard and sometimes painful journey. To perfect and to constantly rework something can be a source of immense stress. Like all artists, filmmakers are especially prone to self-criticism and extreme doubt. Danish “auteur” Nicolas Winding Refn is a prime example of this and while his films aren’t always great works of art, he is a man who cares about his craft. The new documentary My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn attempts to present the man’s life and work process in a casual and honest way. It isn’t the most illuminating of documentaries but it does shine a rather bright light on ambition and self-gratification.
Taking place in Bangkok during the filming of Only God Forgives (Refn’s lackluster follow-up to Drive), My Life is a deeply personal look at the man’s life as he struggles with production and his own bouts with self-criticism. He, his wife Liv Corfixen and their two young children spend six months in Bangkok as Refn sweats and expends most of his energy in the making of his film. Liv documents much of the trip and her careful handling of the camera is actually not far off from Refn’s talent.
At 58 minutes long, My Life doesn’t really delve into the seriousness of Refn’s struggles. Instead we get a so-so portrait of a whiny artiste who is petrified of failure. More could have been focused on him and how his self absorbed behavior affects his family. Liv is all too calm with her eccentric husband and even though she is barely in the film, one can’t help but feeling sorry for her. Not only is she a bit of a victim but so are her kids who are starved for attention. Refn seems to be somewhat oblivious to all of this and the bubble he lives in desperately needs to popped. Even legendary Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky weighs in and does a tarot reading for Refn, very random.
While My Life isn’t the greatest documentary on filmmakers out there, it does offer a few moments worthy of merit. Actors Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas make appearances since they are shooting Only God Forgives. Gosling even seems to be a sort of godfather to Refn’s kids and these tender scenes are what elevate My Life above mediocrity. Refn may not be the most likable individual but the impact he has on those around him is rather interesting to watch.
When Drive came out in 2011, audiences were treated to a truly unique film. In the hopes that he could recapture that artistic magic, people’s expectations were high and this hope is the primary fuel in Refn’s self doubt. The film could have been longer in order to show how his work affected his family life but what we have here is a relatively decent look into Refn’s personal world. Basically, if you want a relatively solid look at how a filmmaker can go deep inside himself and not really let anyone else in, then My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn might be the film for you.