When I decided to make a movie of our family’s experience in Bangkok during Only God Forgives, I knew I didn’t want it to be a behind-the-scenes documentary about Nicolas’s process as a director. My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is a project I needed to do to satisfy my own creativity.
Many people suggested I watch the documentary Heart of Darkness as a reference while I was making my film. I watched it to see how Eleanor Coppola chronicled her husband Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now, but I then decided to take my own approach. I wasn’t interested in using formal interviews in my film and I wanted to tell the story of my life being married to a film director, rather than simply showing the process of making a film.
My film is more about us as a family. It is a difficult thing to be married to an artist while being one yourself, and that is one of the things I wanted to express in my film. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response I’ve been getting from both women and men who have seen my documentary and have identified with my experience. The most common questions I’ve been getting from viewers are: 1) Where do you draw the line in making a film that is so personal? and 2) How do you find a balance between being married to a director, being a mother, and wanting to make your own projects?
First: Where do I draw the line? This is hard to explain when making a personal documentary—but there is definitely a line. In this case, it was about finding the balance between family life and work. There is a fine line between depicting your personal issues, and exposing them.
How far will I go? If you want to push people’s buttons and touch them on an emotional level, you have go deeper than the superficial. You have to give a little more of yourself than you think is comfortable. I have always been drawn to what is believable and genuine in films. If I don’t believe the subject is real, or that it portrays the truth in some way, everything is lost. However, I didn’t want to make a film that exposes everything about our private lives. I needed to maintain a certain degree of privacy, especially when thinking about our children’s lives.
My documentary portrays only one hour of 12 months of our lives, so I still feel secure that people don’t know a lot about us. I had almost 300 hours of footage when I sat down in the editing room, and it took three months just to sort through it all. Naturally there were things I wish I could have included, but when you are trying to pack 300 hours into one, sometimes you have to kill your darlings. There was a hilarious scene of Ryan Gosling doing an impression of Nicolas that had everyone in the editing room cracking up laughing, but in the end I didn’t feel it outweighed any of the other moments I included in the film.
Now, about the balancing act of being a wife, mother, and artist. To live with an artist and to be one yourself requires you to balance the at times tumultuous personality of your artistic spouse, supporting him while finding ways to keep yourself creatively fulfilled. My husband sometimes tells me to just go and do what I want to do—but it’s really not that easy. There are financial responsibilities, and being creative and making a movie takes time.
On top of that, I am not quite as ambitious as my husband. He can’t breathe if he is not creative. I guess I would exist in the world longer than he would if you took creativity away from us. That said, I do still need to exercise my creativity. I will wilt like a flower out of water if I don’t.
When you add children on top of that, it can be difficult to find time to pursue your own creative career and at the same time be the attentive mother you want to be. It’s difficult to constantly be in a position where you feel guilty for working too much, but you feel creatively empty if you don’t work enough. Even though I love my daughters very much, I had two long periods of feeling unfulfilled because of motherhood. To me, having children is very rewarding, but it isn’t fulfilling in and of itself. I have to be careful not to lose my identity in taking care of my kids or I will be unhappy—I believe people are most happy when they are using their skills and talents in the most complete way possible.
At the same time, I have high standards for myself as a mother and wife and do not want to have both Nicolas and myself working full-time while a nanny raises our children. It is also important to us that we spend time with our children as a family and that Nicolas’ work doesn’t infiltrate every corner of our lives. I feel that every feminist who has children is burdened with the task of juggling this issue.
This is my first film as a director, so it has been a journey from start to finish. Along the way there were many ups and downs, and times when I felt like giving up. Documenting oneself is not always easy, but in the end I needed to make this film and go through the process or I would have been very disappointed in myself. I was forced to scrutinize my own life and began to see that perseverance and sacrifice is very necessary to complete a film. And I found myself becoming more empathetic toward my husband along the way.
To be honest, it is a little comforting to know that I am not alone in my experience. After all the response I have gotten from women who have seen my film, I see that these are issues so many of us have. And not just in the film industry—it’s universal, a never-ending story. MM
My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn opened in theaters and on VOD on February 27, 2015, courtesy of RADiUS. Images courtesy of RADiUS.