Copenhagen Cowboy: Joan of Arc from space

Nicolas Winding Refn expresses his feminine obsessions in Copenhagen Cowboy, a six-episode Netflix series that takes Miu, a mute and enigmatic young woman, into the criminal underworld of the Danish capital. Hypnotic and addictive.

Emerging from the realization of the thirteen hours of Too Old to Die Young (2019), Nicolas Winding Refn confided how much he had found in the format of the miniseries the ideal canvas for his cinema. A feeling that comes today to reinforce the six episodes of Copenhagen Cowboywhich allow the Danish filmmaker to deploy his obsessions and his aesthetics in hyperbolic mode, to better catch the viewer in a troubled environment, dream and reality merging to turn into a nightmare in the contrasting light of the neons.

From vintage Refn, to the slow tempo and synth swirls of Cliff Martinezalthough this series, a dive into the criminal underworld of Copenhagen, also translates a significant evolution in the head of a director whose uninhibited masculinity of the universe has been pinpointed (with the notable exception of The Neon Demon). But who, for once, chooses to decline the latter in the feminine. Nothing but natural, notes NWR, before explaining that the fact of living surrounded by women – his wife Liv Corfixen, and his daughters Lola and Lizzielou, associated with various titles in the project – made him aware of the metaphysical power of femininity.

Mix of genres

Make way for Miu (Angela Bundalovic, seen in particular in the series The Rain)-“I’m working with Prada for my next project, its name comes from there, it was inspired by the Miu Miu label of Miuccia Prada”-, an enigmatic young woman in whom it would be tempting to see the female equivalent of Ryan Gosling in Drive, the blue tracksuit as an alternative to the scorpion jacket. Unless, thesis accredited by her virginal status and her thirst for reparation accompanied by supernatural powers, that it is not a question of some modern version of Joan of Arc, which one would think came from space. Or even an archetypal western, an interpretation prompted by the title of a series whose narrative arc still mixes various genres: SF, horror, film noir and so on – and why not a super movie? -refn fashionable hero, after all? “Copenhagen seemed to me to have a cool resonance for a title, and I wondered what could match it. That’s when I thought of Cowboy, Copenhagen Cowboy, CC, with a very erotic side, straight as well as homoerotic by the way. As there is a gender neutrality in the series, this way of giving it a sexual nuance seemed interesting to me. Afterwards, it’s clear that the series consumes a lot of things, because life consists of a lot of different things and creativity too. When I see what my children are doing on social networks, where they print their own stories, it’s as if different ideas are merging so that something else springs out, as if there are no more rules. So I don’t have to conform to any standard, what would be right or wrong, because that doesn’t exist. It was good for before. There is no control, just the act of creating. And that’s what’s interesting.

If he blithely mixes genres, NWR as he now scratches his films, remains nonetheless faithful to his fixations, revenge, domination/submission relationships, iconization and other stylized violence paving a work who found in the “underworld” a setting that could not be more appropriate. “I’m not so much fascinated by the “underworld” as by the fact that the presence of the fear of death enhances the drama, he observes, weighing his words, speaking as his characters evolve, slowly. I don’t shoot documentaries, my films are augmented reality. For the trilogy Pusher for example, I went into reality in order to fictionalize it with real people playing them. And at the time of Bronson, I started to get interested in unreality, and what it actually meant, and that broadened the canvas, because in the end, real life is always going to eclipse anyone. which of your visions. It was then that the idea of ​​heightened dramas transposed from a real world to an augmented world, while ensuring that one could always connect to it emotionally, germinated.” Tirade that he punctuates with one of those punchlines of which he has the secret: “If Shakespeare Lived Today He Wouldn’t Be Writing About Royal Families, He Would Be Writing About Crime.”

Nicklas (Andreas Lykke Jørgensen): “swing your pig” in Refn fashion. © netflix

A changing universe

A world that adopts, in Refn, graphic contours identifiable among all, following a palette ranging from bluish to purple to give it an atmosphere that we could, with good reason, describe as neo-black. “It suits drama, subtext, sexuality and taboo perfectly. We all live very normal lives, but we yearn in our fantasies for something different. What it can be interests and attracts me. A disposition of which fetishism would be the obvious extension, NWR being in line with a long list of filmmakers, from Hitchcock to De Palma. He, however, refuses to see in it an exclusively cinematographic heritage: “I’m a fetishist, I like to fetishize things, and maybe that stems from my dyslexia: I wasn’t able to read until very late, and I only have limited writing skills. Fetishization is my tool.

Profession of faith of an artist to whom images have always spoken in the first person. “I love movies, but especially those that remind me of televisionhe continues. My introduction to cinema was not made in theaters but through television, when I arrived in New York at the age of 8. And that I discovered the multitude of programs to which one had access by changing the channel, accompanied by the possibility of controlling the narration and taking it to something totally different. It was then that I began to be intrigued by the audiovisual world. Afterwards, I’ve come to a more commercial mode of filmmaking, which I feel is becoming ever more obsolete. For my children’s generation, technology now offers far more advanced possibilities, in terms of creativity, experiences or counter-culture, whatever you want to call it.

Cathedrals to preserve

NWR, for its part, has evidently found streaming a medium to its hand, both in terms of the time dilation it allows –Copenhagen Cowboy can be seen as a short six hour film– only by the leeway it has there. “We wrote the script as we were filming, and Netflix was super cool, not asking to read it, just what direction we were going.he appreciates. They have been great partners: I did not expect such collaboration or such support.

However, the director refuses to resign himself to the disappearance of the cinema and its appropriate setting, the room: “I love cinemas, and the idea of ​​a cathedral where we go to live an experience together. Every time I pass a supermarket, I can’t help but cry, because it’s likely this place was once a movie theater. I am sincere: I regret that these places of common experiences disappear, or that they are replaced by useless shopping centers and meaningless multiplexes. It makes me nostalgic, but I no longer know what cinema is: a film, is it 30 seconds, two hours, three hours or nine hours? The concept to which we were accustomed no longer really applies. But if we go back to the time of the invention of the 7th art, the great creators could make odysseys for hours or films from a reel where someone watched the train go by. In a way, we should let go of the past, and look to the future. The same time, the pandemic has reminded us that we are human beings, that we exist together, and that the more we are together, the better the world is. In my mind, cinemas have always been places where people come together, collectively, to share an experience, and there aren’t many others, except museums, or stadiums. But there’s also something unique about going together in the dark of an audience to look at a screen, and I think they should have mandatory support from governments, in all countries. They must support single-screen cinemas, which are magnificent cathedrals in which we go and exist as individuals.

Copenhagen Cowboy

Like David Lynch or Wes Anderson, Nicolas Winding Refn is one of those authors whose universe is immediately identifiable. So Copenhagen Cowboywhich confirms the return to Denmark of the director of The Neon Demonno doubt one of his films as this miniseries, his second after Too Old to Die Young, evokes the most, adopting the form of a hallucinated journey where the rawest violence merges into an astonishing formal beauty. NWR stages Miu (Angela Bundalovic), a mute and enigmatic heroine endowed with strange powers, who we discover when she has just been sold as a lucky charm to a woman of a certain age, expecting from her the miracle that will allow her to become pregnant. Failing which Miu ends up in an underground brothel whose boss intends to put her up for auction, the summary of a life, to all appearances, which has seen her pass from hand to hand since her mother sold her to the 7 years old. And the beginning of an odyssey that will take her through the criminal underworld of Copenhagen, the thirst for revenge and the desire for rebirth as compasses as she navigates the mire according to alliances of circumstance, whether with Mother Hulda (Li Ii Zhang), the hardly less secretive owner of a twilight Chinese restaurant, or with Miro (Zlatko Buric), a crooked lawyer with the ear of the mafia…

Praise of slowness

As often with the author of Only God Forgives, the plot – where it will still be about voracious pigs, buffoonish masculinists and many other things, including supernatural – is however only a pretext, which follows a suspended course (clearly calling for a second season). And if Copenhagen Cowboy is based on western expectations, with his character coming out of nowhere and devoid of a tangible past – one thinks of Shane, unless it is a Joan of Arc from space-, while eyeing horror, fantasy or even neo-noir, it is above all a sensory experience that ‘it’s about. In this respect, the format of the series, which he skilfully distorts, is ideally suited to NWR’s cinema, the slowness of both the story and the characters being erected here as a cardinal principle to find an unprecedented scale, while the aesthetics, oscillating between static shots and circular tracking shots in a universe bathed in neon colors and Cliff Martinez’s electro, gives the whole thing the look of a journey at the confluence of dream and nightmare. The Lynch of Twin Peaks is hardly far away in a series still holding in places from the installation. An immersive setting where Refn gives free rein to his fetishism and his obsessions, not without adopting unexpected feminist accents. As if, seemingly nothing, Copenhagen Cowboy sounded the revolt of women against a nauseating patriarchy, in a radical cinematographic gesture as hypnotic as it was resolutely addictive.

Miniseries by Nicolas Winding Refn. With Angela Bundalovic, Andreas Lykke Jørgensen, Zlatko Buric. Available on Netflix. 8

Copenhagen Cowboy: Joan of Arc from space