Nicolas Winding Refn. Bare and raw

«Creativity also means transforming one’s weaknesses into something powerful». Nicolas Winding Refn, 52, Danish, is today one of the most enigmatic directors and screenwriters, even if he prefers to define himself as an “expressionist”. From the Pusher trilogy to films like Bronson, Drive, Only God forgives, The Neon Demon, up to Copenhagen Cowboy, the series aired in early January on Netflix, has never stopped exploring, with his gaze and his style . Fascinating, because in the stories he stages the protagonists, men or women, are a bit like him: alter ego outside the box, revolutionary, extreme, sometimes poetic, who prefer gray, uncertain and dangerous areas to safety, looking for the chaos to improve oneself, with ambition and courage. «Paradoxically», he says, «if there is evil in the stories, it’s more fun and the characters are not forgotten. We admire their strength, complexity and their emotional impact».

We met him twice in a few weeks, between Venice (for the latest Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica) and Milan, where he created Touch of Crude: the latest fruit of the collaboration he has been pursuing for years with Miuccia Prada (who is now Raf Simons added), which saw the light on the occasion of the presentation of the maison’s latest Spring-Summer 2023 women’s collection. Refn has signed an immersive and multidimensional project, created together with AMO, the parallel studio of Rem Koolhaas, «which becomes an object, an installation, a fashion show, and soon also a short film now in the works», he explains. «I liked the word“ touch ”(“ touch ”, ed), she expresses poetics and sensitivity. “Crude” (“crude”, ed), on the other hand, can perhaps be seen as something derogatory, while it is more liberating, less filtered. Their combination was a great way to describe what I wanted to do: a new canvas».


The myth of this director, who always seems to differentiate himself and to whom many pay close attention, was born in his childhood spent between Denmark and the United States: «I lived with my mother Vibeke and my stepfather: as a Scandinavian I led a healthy life, with an rigorous,” he reveals. «When we moved to New York at the age of 8, the first thing I found shocking was television: part of my training came from there. My mother only gave me 30 minutes a day, she considered it harmful. She was an independent woman, she was an important photographer, she followed the hippie movements, she photographed Jimi Hendrix. Yet as a boy there was a moment when I needed to be arrogant, I challenged her: she despised Reagan, I supported him, she loved the Nouvelle Vague, I watched a certain violent, horror and science fiction cinema. Then one day I saw Truffaut’s Four Hundred Blows: it was something that he worked inside me in an enormous way, unfortunately I never really made him understand it ». It is precisely by returning to the past, to his Danish roots, that Refn is now shaping the future with Copenhagen Cowboy, presented at the last Venice Film Festival. A noir series, of great visual impact, as well as visionary, in which women put on the show (in the cast there is also the eldest daughter, Lola), as happens to her new alter ego, Miu, a girl with supernatural powers who, after an existence of submission and abuse, seeks revenge, justice and redemption through the lights and shadows of the criminal world of the Danish capital. “It’s the closest thing to a superhero film I’ve ever done.”

Touch of raw @Prada

Thus women (re)become his constant driving force, in life as in the cinema. «The female universe has always excited me, as a child I even liked vintage dolls. On my first date with Liv, who was to become my wife, I showed her a film by Dario Argento to impress her. We’ve been married for 15 years.” Points of reference, Liv and Argento, to which is added Alejandro Jodorowsky, cult director of The Sacred Mountain and expert in “psychomagic”, to whom Refn is very close: «One day he made me the tarot cards announcing that Drive would travel the world . You have seen us far ». That weaknesses are at the origin of his creativity is also evident when he reveals that he has always struggled with dyslexia: as a kid I couldn’t read, I only understood what I saw. That’s why I started filming: I wanted to capture images, but everything revolved around my vanity. But when I realized that I wasn’t going to grow up, it was a good moment. Failure can make you strong and is more authentic than success.” Refn is also an avid collector, especially of music-related memorabilia: «Especially vinyls: music is one of the essential narrative elements, it is rhythm, suspense, adrenaline». The mania for looking for him also led him to collect film posters from the 60s and 70s: «In my room? I had one, huge, by James Dean. Perhaps because I have always considered myself a rebel».

Nicolas Winding Refn. Bare and raw – Icon