A dark basement, a disreputable nightclub, a dimly lit Asian restaurant, as usual, Nicolas Winding Refn takes us to unsavory corners. Here, Copenhagen is a hunting ground, a place where gangs clash. If the city gives its name to the series, Nicolas Winding Refn has clearly not been hired by the government to promote tourism in his country. Moreover, Copenhagen is never shown during the day, and the characters rarely breathe fresh air.
From the Albanian mafia to the Chinese criminal organization, the series explores behind the scenes, the viewer is immersed in the undergrounds of a soiled and corrupted society. Sex trafficking, narcotics, arms, the filmmaker paints a raw and violent portrait of a world ruled by perverted men, hungry for power and money.
Whether Copenhagen Cowboy is very violent, like the society represented, and murders and rapes follow one another, the series does not make violence a visual attraction. Nicolas Winding Refn turns the camera away and uses off-camera and sound to demonstrate the brutality events. The darkness of the world is enough to shock.
All this is not done without special attention given to light, Nicolas Winding Refn is not a neon fan for nothing. The red and blue neon lights plunge all this underground world into a very aesthetic lascivious atmosphere that does not embellish the decor, but reveals its perversity.
Often described as an arty filmmaker who favors form over substance and pays little attention to the script, Nicolas Winding Refn shows here that he has a story to tell. Copenhagen Cowboy is not just an aesthetic series. The six episodes don’t rely solely on their visuals and mood, far from it, and the series is not a cut-to-length movie. The writing is mastered and the episodes respond to each other, establish links, references.
At the center of it all is Miu, the main character played by Angela Bundalovic. Miu is not a woman like the others, she is certainly not human, she is a “lucky charm”. Sold and bought since her childhood by rich people wanting to offer her services, she is used and enslaved like the female prostitutes she encounters after the acquisition that opens the first episode.
Whether she is a spirit, a mystical entity or even an extraterrestrial, Miu is like the other women in the series: forced to evolve in this world that wants to enslave her. Revered and coveted by her buyers, Miu always ends up being controlled by her criminals. Copenhagen Cowboy then embarks on Miu’s quest for revenge, wanting at all costs to help other pure hearts like those of Cimona and Mother Hulda.
Being able to sow happiness, it can also make the misfortune of those who want to harm him like the Danish elite, represented by bloodcurdling vampiric characters. Indeed, Nicolas Winding Refn does not only attack gangs and criminals, but also wishes to portray the highly placed families of Denmark who survive and dominate thanks to the money they hold. But it’s time for Miu to overthrow the power.
Fasten your seat belts
So obviously, Copenhagen Cowboy would not be a Nicolas Winding Refn series if it were only a crime series about a woman wanting to quench her thirst for revenge. Faced with the raw and brutal realism that makes the series ultra-realistic, a strange supernatural atmosphere is installed. This mysticism, which already passes through the presence of Miu, but also through the photography of Magnus Nordenhof Jønck (The OA), is amplified by Cliff Martinez’s synthsNWR’s favorite composer, who brings a touch of science fiction to the story.
Copenhagen Cowboy can be frustrating on many levels, but mostly because it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Completely Lynchian (the red room of Twin Peaks seems to have served as inspiration for many sets), the series plays on the mystery and gives false leads, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to understand its true purpose.
Playing on the experimental ground with its story therefore, which wanders and leaves aside avenues to explore others, the series experiments above all in its form. Close-ups, sequences without music, subliminal images, very theatrical shots… the filmmaker uses his camera, editing and sound to create a unique workand therefore unclassifiable.
Some shots are long, perhaps too long, and some silent sequences will put some people off, but one thing is certain, Copenhagen Cowboy is an experience. You have to hold on and then let yourself be overwhelmed and taken into this bizarre and fascinating universe which is not only there for art, which uses the supernatural to talk about reality.
Despite the experimentation, what’s most noticeable is the attention that NWR gives to its setting. The staging is impeccable, the camera movements are mastered, the circular tracking shots give the impression of attending a ballet, a millimeter choreography. If Nicolas Winding Refn sends the codes flying and experiments, he proves once again that he has mastered his art.
Copenhagen Cowboy is available in full since January 5, 2023 on Netflix