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Cannes 2011: Danish director Refn describes date with Gosling, laces into von Trier

May 20, 2011 |  5:05 pm

On Thursday night, Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" played to some of the most enthusiastic media crowds at the Cannes Film Festival. On Friday, just as Refn was preparing to premiere his Ryan Gosling-starring film to the public, he sat down with 24 Frames to offer his thoughts on a range of cinematic topics: a festival youth movement, a love for soft rock and that, er, other Danish filmmaker.

While the competition section here tends to favor veterans -- Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar and the Belgian neorealists the Dardenne Bros. are both back once again, among other repeat offenders -- this year's Cannes field also includes a significant number of filmmakers in their 30s and early 40s, comers such as Maiwenn, Lynne Ramsay and Julia Leigh, as well as Refn).

Refn says that emergence of a new class is no accident. “Sometimes the most interesting things come out of age and knowledge, and sometimes they come out of being young, and even the arrogance of being young," said the 40-year-old.

Despite any youthful arrogance, Refn's demeanor differs significantly from that of said other Dane, Lars von Trier, who was declared persona non grata by the festival Thursday for his comments about Nazism. Asked what he thought of those comments, Refn replied: "What Lars said was just very, very mean. Coming from a Jewish family myself, it saddened me that someone would say something like that without thinking what it means to so many people."

Refn -- who was born in Copenhagen but spent his pre-adolescent and teenage years in New York, and says he considers himself a Dane by passport only -- went on to take a shot at his birthplace too. "The problem with Denmark is that it's in its own little world even though it wishes to be international," he said. "We had a similar problem with these [anti-Muslim] cartoons which were completely unnecessary and did not serve any purpose rather than just to get a reaction."

Then he circled back to Von Trier. "To say things like [what he said] shows you live in such a small-minded country. The ceiling is so low in Denmark it's not hard to get the spotlight. [But] to do things like what Lars did you should do when you're 18. It's kind of pathetic when you're a 60-year-old man." (Ironically, Denmark is often regarded with fondness by contemporary Jews for the monarchy's decision to stand in solidarity with Jews during Hitler's WWII aggression and the rescue of thousands of Jews by ordinary Danes.)

Despite Refn's break from his home country, it is hard to avoid grouping him with at least some filmmakers from the region. He's best known for the "Pusher" trilogy, a  gritty series about the Copenhagen underworld that fits nicely with other Nordic genre films such as "Let the Right One In," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "Snabba Cash" -- and differs from many of the high-cinema offerings in the Cannes competition.

But Refn says he sees the world evolving to a place where the tuxedoed set starts accepting a wider range of movies. "For younger audiences and filmmakers, genre is the new arthouse," he said. "I came from a family that worshipped the French New Wave, which was a form of rebellion, and the way to rebel against that was to go out and see 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' "

Refn also talked about the time he first met Gosling, over dinner in Los Angeles, when Refn was buzzed on anti-flu medication. After asking Gosling to drive him home midway through the meal, the actor turned on the car radio, only to come upon REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling." "And I don't know if I was really high on anti-flu medicines, or maybe there's just something about that song, but I just started crying," recalled the director. "Ryan probably thought it was the worst first date ever."


With Ryan Gosling's 'Drive,' a different Dane gets his moment

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ryan Gosling in "Drive." Credit: FilmDistrict