Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Review written by: Arnaud Trouvé (Minister for Foreign Affairs)
"Revenge is a dish best served cold": NWR & his star are finally back to Cannes to complete their one-two punch with a new feature: "Only God Forgives". Although never explicitly mentioned, the action is set in today's Bangkok. Julian (Ryan Gosling) manages a club of muay thai, the Thai kick boxing, with his brother Billy (Tom Burke). Soon, an unexpected series of events takes him in a spiral of violence where he will face the chief of local police (Vithaya Pansringarm), while reuniting with his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas).
OGF is a very dark tale about doom, honor and resilience, and it's definitely not for the faint of heart. One scene in particular made me look away from the screen, after several minutes of unbearable tension. Several other shots are pretty graphic too. The sexual tension that was only whispered in "Drive" is also back with maximum impact. All those thrilling heights are even amplified by the astounding lighting work by Larry Smith, to whom I'm eternally grateful since he also lit "Eyes Wide Shut". This French-Danish co-production uses his violent set-ups to provoke a visceral reaction, similar to the films by Gaspar Noé ("Irreversible", "I Stand Alone", "Enter the Void") who is thanked in the credits, but at the same time it never shies away from the potential offenses drawn by those horrific acts: woman abuse, child abuse, endless cycle of hatred.
The thought-provoking images echo one another and, once the rather simple plot is resolved and the film ends, all you're left with is a bitter taste in your mouth and a dazzling kaleidoscopic vision of symbols and colors. A night-club scene was very reminiscent of "Mulholland Dr.", enhanced by the mesmerizing soundscape crafted by Cliff Martinez. NWR depicts a world where the most innocent and beautiful girl has dinner with the most horrific mother ever imagined (and that includes all the Greek tragedians). By the way, a special category should be created to acknowledge the incredible performance by Kristin Scott Thomas. All the Gosling fans expecting a semi-superhero movie with a lot of kick-ass fights and chases will be very skeptical discovering his character, who is beautiful but a loser nonetheless, almost impotent, trying to avoid the huge obstacles he or someone else has put in front of him. In my opinion, that's a much more interesting point of view, and the subtle continuity of the deconstruction started in "Drive".
I'm impressed by the style of Winding Refn, the efficiency of his camera work and editing, his ability to show actions and tell consequences in a mere three shots. In my opinion, this is something that could be taught in every cinema school. "Only God Forgives" fits well into an already impressive body of work, with "Drive" almost looking like an anomaly as it's the only of its films that NWR didn't wrote. I saw OGF yesterday and I feel like I just uncovered one layer of its story. From the sets to the costumes, everything falls into place while being open to interpretation. And for having visited Bangkok, I feel the film captured very well the atmosphere of the city, the quiet eccentricity of its streets, to the most incongruous karaoke scenes that reminded me of "Uncle Boonmee".
By Movie Parliament Minister of Foreign Affairs,
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