Refn – Selected films

CANNES 2013. He left the National Film School of Denmark at 24, when he got the funding to make his first feature, "Pusher", a breakthrough film for Mads Mikkelsen. Get to know the films by Nicolas Winding Refn who is back in competition in Cannes with the Danish-produced "Only God Forgives", his second venture with Ryan Gosling.

Only God Forgives (2013)

From one City of Angels to another: In Refn and Ryan Gosling's second film together, after 2011's "Drive", Bangkok makes an otherworldly setting for a tale of Thai boxing, crime and stunted emotions. When the brother of Gosling's anti-hero Julian is killed, he is caught in a spiral of brutality, finding himself in the burning spotlight of a notorious Bangkok police boss.

Here is a selection of films by Nicolas Winding Refn – from "Pusher" to "Drive":

Nicolas Winding Refn

Born 1970, Denmark. Lived in New York between the age of 8 and 17. Studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Art.

At age 24, Refn wrote and directed his feature film debut "Pusher" (1996), winning him instant critical acclaim. "Bleeder" (1999) premiered at the Venice Film Festival and won the FIPRESCI Award at Sarajevo in 2000. John Turturro starred in "Fear X" (2003), Refn's English-language, Canadian-Danish co-production, selected for Sundance. In just one year, Refn wrote, directed, and produced the two follow-ups to his now cult-classic "Pusher": "With Blood on My Hands – Pusher II" (2004), and "I Am the Angel of Death – Pusher III" (2005).

"Bronson" (2009), described by critics as a modern-day "Clockwork Orange", was a British production. His Viking epic "Valhalla Rising" (2010) premiered in Toronto and Venice and was highly commended by British and French critics for it mesmerising imagery and original take on the genre. Refn's Hollywood production "Drive" (2011) with Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan won the award for best director in Cannes. His Danish-produced "Only God Forgives", in Cannes competition, also stars Gosling plus British actress Kristin Scott Thomas.

Films below link up to the Danish versions in our Film Database. There you can find the factsheets in English by hitting the flag (right).


Drive (2011)

Photo: SF Film

Ryan Gosling planted a big, sloppy kiss on Nicolas Winding Refn's lips on the red carpet in Cannes, when Refn won the award for best director for his Hollywood production "Drive". The stylish, modern noir was Refn's massive international breakthrough and the start of a beautiful friendship between Refn and Gosling, who had personally headhunted the director. In the film, Gosling plays the quiet, mysterious Driver, Hollywood stuntman by day and getaway driver at brutal stickups by night.


Valhalla Rising (2010)

Valhalla Rising
Foto: Dean Rogers, Joanne Irvine

In this Viking epic, Mads Mikkelsen plays Refn's favourite outsider hero, the supernaturally powerful, mythical warrior One Eye, anticipating Ryan Gosling's enigmatic Driver. A harshly violent moral tale of vengeance and identity that journeys into the heart of darkness, British and French critics praised "Valhalla Rising" for its hypnotic imagery and original take on the genre. The film premiered in Toronto and Venice.


Bronson (2009)

Photo: Scanbox

Having directed two episodes of the BBC's "Miss Marple" series, Refn was hired to helm the English crime biopic "Bronson". The film was a big breakthrough for Tom Hardy in the title role as one of Britain's most dangerous criminals, Charles Bronson. Painting a portrait of Bronson the legend rather than Bronson the person, the film is ultraviolent, surrealist and aestheticised, giving us glimpses of his life, as narrated by the self-aware antihero.


Fear X (2003)

Fear X 2
Photo: Rolf Konow

In Refn's first English-language film, John Turturro plays a security guard who becomes obsessed with finding out the real circumstances leading to his wife's death. The ambitious, nightmarish revenge thriller, which premiered at Sundance, flopped badly, forcing Refn into bankruptcy. Score by Brian Eno.


Bleeder (1999)

Photo: Casper Sejersen

Refn continues the style and streetwise portrayals from "Pusher" in this darker, edgier film. Revealing inner reactions to outer situations, the highly stylized film depicts the crisis of masculinity embodied in two of society's losers, "Pusher"'s Kim Bodnia and Mads Mikkelsen, who push back with violence and take their anger and frustrations out on their girlfriends. The film was selected for Venice.


The Pusher Trilogy (1996, 2004, 2005)

Photo: Dick Lyngsie

Refn left the National Film School of Denmark at 24, when he got the funding to make his first feature, the action drama "Pusher", a breakthrough film for Mads Mikkelsen. This uncompromising story from the Copenhagen underworld quickly became a cult hit, marking a new departure in Danish cinema with its genre-consciousness, raw realism, handheld camera and gritty images. Seven years later, mainly for financial reason (chronicled in the documentary "Gambler"), Refn followed up the success of "Pusher" with two sequels.


Documentaries about Refn

Gambler directed by Phie Ambo ("Free the Mind", "Family", "Mechanical Love") tracks Nicolas Winding Refn when the director files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of "Fear X". Up to his eyeballs in debt and having a baby to support, he decides to make two sequels to his biggest commercial hit, "Pusher". Pokerfaced, bluffing and choking back Alka-Seltzers, Refn manages to placate his bank, his wife and his creditors, while convincing the Danish Film Institute's film commissioners to fund his film dreams and still keeping his artistic integrity intact.

Photo from "Gambler"

NWR by the French filmmaker Laurent Duroche tracks Refn from the screening of "Drive" at Cannes 2011 back to Copenhagen and on to Thailand to direct "Only God Forgives". An open, engaged Refn discusses paradoxes and hidden aspects of his work and his relationship to his family. Participants include Ryan Gosling, Mads Mikkelsen, Refn's wife, Liv Corfixen, and the filmmaker Gaspar Noé.

Photo from "NWR"