Nicolas Winding Refn On Culture’s Definition Of Beauty, “Men As Girlfriends” In ‘Neon Demon’ & Lars Von Trier – Cannes

Mark Mann

The Neon Demon director Nicolas Winding Refn made his third appearance at the Cannes Film Festival press conference this morning and expounded on everything from the acerbity of the fashion world, the shrinking definition of beauty in the face of his daughters, the portrayal of men in his latest film and his fellow countryman, that wild and crazy Lars von Trier.

Neon Demon premieres tonight following yesterday’s press screening, and the film drew divided reactions. For Refn aficionados, it’s another facet of his continued brilliance. For haters, the L.A. fashion world pseudo neo-noir pic is a notch below his previous Only God Forgives, while for others it’s a bumper car fiesta of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, ‘80s kitsch titles like Heathers and David Cronenberg’s Crash.

In regards to audience and critics’ varied response to Neon Demon last night, Refn beamed, “That’s punk rock. Look at the reactions. You can’t deny it, it’s search and destroy…whatever you got, I’ll tear it down and build it again. Don’t compromise on life or anything, that’s where you feel life. That’s what’s important to get across to those teenagers out there.”

A reporter in the room asked how Danish filmmakers such as Refn and Lars von Trier can push actors to their limits. Refn, quipped, “Well, Lars is Lars. He’s done a lot of drugs. Well, you got that answer” at which point the press room erupted in laugther. “The last time I saw Lars he asked my wife if she wanted to have sex,” Refn further joked. Big hilarious uproar from the room.

In Neon Demon, Elle Fanning plays an 18-year old who arrives in L.A. and is completely swept up by the fashion world for her natural looks. She is told by her agent played by Christina Hendricks to lie, and to tell people that she’s 19 “because 18 is too on the nose.” That whole notion concerned the 45-year old Refn, who is a father to two girls.

“Beauty –it’s an obsession that has only grown. Even though we try to politicize it, the digital revolution has sped up man’s evolution to the extreme. The idea of the movie when I talked to Elle Fanning was ‘Let’s make a movie about the obsession of beauty.’ It’s in our social media, TV, movies — what’s gonna happen when longevity no longer exists? When the definition of beauty shrinks and shrinks, and becomes younger?”

Fanning’s Jesse is prized for her untouched looks, a quality that Alessandro Nivola’s designer schools her rivals on as being a “diamond among glass” in the fashion world. Asked to juxtapose the fashion scene with Hollywood, Refn responded, “I’m not an expert and in no way can I critique that world, but any environment that focuses on how you look is extremely harsh. It comes down to: How were you born? That’s a horrible world to live in because it must be terrifying, living where the reality is so extreme, and at the same time it’s intoxicating. But we didn’t make the movie to comment or politicize.”

Having delivered his first female driven movie, Refn throws a shade on his portrayal of men in Neon Demon, from the carnal fashion photographer to Keanu Reeve’s abusive, white trash hotel manager. Overall, they’re not the superhero that Ryan Gosling plays in Drive and Only God Forgives.

Explained Refn, “All the men (in my movie) are like girlfriends in other movies. All the women are everything in this movie. The men represent certain approaches of fear, control…they’re dominated by the female character that allows them to be predators, or the boyfriend with the good heart and morals.”

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