Refn retrospective tackles the mysteries of masculinity

Whatever your opinion of Nicolas Winding Refn – most fall between sick misogynist and movie messiah – it’s difficult to pigeon-hole his films. His films are predominantly about men, most of whom are gangsters or criminals. However, that undermines the diversity of perhaps one of Europe’s strangest cinematic voices. Violence is the one constant throughout his work, and while his idols like Martin Scorcese and David Lynch are arguably more involved with a character’s motivation, Refn is more taken by the act itself. Quoted as saying he believes screen violence to be an art form, Refn is a different fish altogether.

Refn was born into Danish cinema, a place he finds all too claustrophobic. His father was an established editor and his mother a female cinematographer. Unlike Lars Von Trier or Thomas Vinterberg, Refn declined to take the film school route, and instead successfully stormed the industry castle in 1996 with his micro-budgeted debut Pusher.

Much of Refn’s youth was spent in New York, so following his success in Denmark, his second home beckoned. The failure of his third film Fear X saw him return to Europe with his tail between his legs. However, as soon as Refn found success again, he returned to the US, where he belongs stylistically and ideologically more than anywhere else. His early films about the drug-addled, mean streets of Copenhagen, although undoubtedly with some grounding in reality, seem geographically misplaced; his characters and their actions seem much more at home when later placed in North America. And just when you think you have Refn in a box with a label, he goes and directs two Miss Marple TV movies.

Cinemateket will present a retrospective on Refn over the next two months, showing two documentaries about the filmmaker and all of his films. Below is a selection of the films on offer – check the website for full details.  

TOP PICKS:

Pusher
Frank (Bodnia) is a Vesterbro drug dealer who missteps and lands himself in a world of pain. Owing a great debt to Serbian drug lord Milo (Zlatko Buric), Frank starts a desperate descent into the Copenhagen underworld in order to save his skin. The two sequels are also showing.
Thu Aug 1, 19:00; Tue Aug 13, 16:45; Wed Sep 18, 16:45

Bronson
A wildly creative approach to chronicling the life of the bare-knuckle boxer, psychopath and armed robber Charles Bronson, who is often referred to as ‘Britain’s most violent prisoner’. The film offered a breakthrough role for actor Thomas Hardy, who played Bronson.
Thu Aug 1, 16:30; Wed Aug 7, 21:15; Sat Aug 17, 21:15

Valhalla Rising
Refn reteamed with Mads Mikkelsen (after the Pusher trilogy and Bleeder), for this film, which aims to give the Viking mythos a dollop of dirt and some nasty for good measure. Highly divisive at the time of release, the film is regarded as rubbish by some and spiritual ‘mental fiction’ by others.
Thu Aug 8, 19:30; Sat Aug 31, 19:15; Tue Sep 3, 16:45

Gambler
The first of two documentaries on Refn, this one follows his plight in 2005, when after the monumental flop of Fear X, the supposedly penniless filmmaker was coerced into making the Pusher sequels.
Sun Aug 4, 17:15; Wed Aug 7, 18:30; Wed Sep 4, 16:30

Drive
Refn’s crowning achievement, carrying all of his hallmarks of testosterone-charged hyper violence but managing to leave some heart and pull off iconic Lynchian imagery. The film also bagged him a ‘best director’ gong at Cannes.
Sat Aug 3, 21:30; Sat Aug 10, 19:00; Thu Aug 22, 21:00