2016; directed by Nicolas Winding Refn; written by Mary Laws, Nicolas Winding Refn and Polly Stenham; 117 mins
Once again, negativity, dismissiveness and ‘ban this filth‘ crap greet the new Nicolas Winding Refn film and whereas, a lot of times, I feel dismayed when the general consensus doesn’t quite meet my adoration of a particular film, with this director’s work… it kinda thrills me! When the screening finished and the lights went up, a guy behind me turned to his group of mates and said; “Yeah, sorry about that, guys!”
The story follows wide-eyed, orphaned ingenue, Jesse, just turned sixteen and living in a scuzzy L.A. motel as she tries to break into the cut-throat fashion industry. Her rise is meteoric: instantly agents, photographers, fellow models, professionals at all echelons see her natural beauty and want a piece of it. Jesse herself is excited but scared by all the attention, particularly coming from models Sarah and Gigi, makeup artist Ruby and paedophile motel owner, Hank.
First up: the performances. As usual, Refn gets the best out of his actors and more than ever, that Bressonian thing of have the cast pose like models is on display but kind of inherent to the subject matter. Over and above this, though, if you go to the IMDb trivia page, you read instances of Refn asking his actors for advice. So, you have Elle Fanning giving a very natural and surprisingly relate-able performance as Jesse, looking – for as long as she is required to – like the proverbial “deer in the headlights” until such time as her character decides to swim with the sharks.
Keanu Reeves and Jena Malone give creepy and unsympathetic performances which dive into the mire of sleaze and go with it. Some people have said that Reeves’ character is unnecessary but I feel he was much needed as an extra tier of exploitative perversion that Jesse has to endure. The real standout is Australian model-turned-actress, Abbey Lee who is as authentic as the role allows her to be but in a couple of crucial scenes is really unsettling and revealing of herself and the character’s lust for power and desirability.
As for the ending – I remembered my basic knowledge of the quest for the Holy Grail: 150 knights set out, only three found it. Sir Galahad died soon afterwards, Sir Perceval became a hermit and only Sir Bors returned to Camelot to tell the tale. Jesse is the Holy Grail of her industry and when Gigi, Ruby and Sarah kill and eat her only Sarah is capable of consuming her essence and walking away from it. Gigi can’t digest her and tries to cut Jesse out of her body and Ruby expels her out of her body in some orgasmic, cascading full moon period.
Fucking load of bollocks, right? Plus, Refn believes in ghosts and tarot! However, like with Only God Forgives, there’s an idea that he should be doing and saying things one way that is less distasteful and that pleases us and he doesn’t… and that’s almost the thing I like most about him.