Welcome to the latest edition of 24 Frames. Sahara Shrestha and Andrew Jamieson will be guiding you through the exciting, confusing and often brilliant world of 'film'. Expect news, trailers and plenty of opinion.

The latest edition is brought to you by Andrew Jamieson, who can be found on twitter over at @theghostwriterc.



24 Frames: The 'Only God Forgives' Edition

I remember when Nicholas Winding Refn announced that the follow up to his wonderfully played noir Drive (2011) - (which I reviewed again a few weeks ago) would be released in 2013 and would feature the star of Drive, Ryan Gosling. After seeing it I can confirm that it did not deserve the famously vitriolic responses given to it at the Cannes film festival. It is not a bad movie; did I walk out of the movie and begin checking the home video release date as I did with the director's previous movie? That is a rhetorical question and the simple answer is no, certainly not.

When I went to see the movie my friend indicated that he believed that a director such as Gasper Noe deals with this type of material in a far more successful fashion. Noe, a subversively dangerous director portrayed the relationship between a brother and sister and the Tokyo narcotics scene to vivid and almost incestuous effect in Enter The Void (2009). Prior to that movie in 2002 he wrote and directed what is still to me the most disturbing movie I have ever seen in Irreversible a film that was about the effects of violence on the world around us.

After seeing Only God Forgives I understood these references and I saw in the Refn picture shades of David Lynch and Terrence Malick. I do believe that Malick's own Tree of Life (2011) works best when approached as a poetic illustration of abstract film making that dumbfounds and electrifies the audience in tandem. It is a shame then that the same cannot be said about Only God Forgives.

  • Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives

Let me start with the good points about the film. I recently read a review of Neil Jordan's Byzantium (2013) (which is at the time of writing is my favourite movie of the year) - in which the reviewer stated that Jordan uses the actress Gemma Arterton as a visual effect. Refn does the same thing with Ryan Gosling here. As Gosling walks into each frame Refn again shows his mistrust of his second language and allows Gosling to be viewed as a singularly silent and violent archetype. The posters for the movie seem to follow this aesthetic choice. Refn uses short bursts of dialogue and narrative to paint a picture of a man whose very sanctity and emotional violence is the product of a mother who detests him and herself. This theme of the results of a destructive family structure runs throughout the movie; as a narrative subtext between the Gosling character, his mother and their murderous, violent and paedophile brother.

Gosling cannot reconcile his motherly relationship and attempts to physically understand where he came using brutal and animalistic methods in the latter stages of the movie. The police officer played by Vithya Pansringarm is the symbolic representation of the God from the title of the picture. His police officers are cast as disciples of justice, and even upon the dawn of the most pervasively nasty torture scene in the film; the audience of both men and women close their eyes upon his request as they appear to pray for the soul of the man who will now face judgement from a would be avenging angel.

Many of the protagonists foreshadow there visitation by Pansringham and his sword appears as if from nowhere to elicit justice. This metaphysical quandary is also reinforced by a number of scenes in a karaoke bar in which Pansringarm sings emotive lyrics to those who bear witness to his 'prayers'. The actress Kristen Scott Thomas is superb in a role that confounds her cinematic persona, for this her performance is an awards worthy contender. I would also say that the movie is shot by Larry Smith in a beautiful way and the score is at times stunning. So do all of these component parts work as movie? No.

The film shows contempt for the audience; the bursts of ultra violence and sombre pomposity keep the audience on the periphery of what little narrative and metaphorical structure there is. It is a sleight on the director that despite all of the poetic desire he has for this material he simply does not know how to reconcile these expansive tropes with any emotional resonance or meaning. It is at times almost comedic as characters walk into frame, and walk out. Like a poem this movie is simply a collection of stanzas that have an abstract meaning but no collective conclusions. The women in the movie are painted with a negative; and leery tone that borders on passive misogyny. An idea that is more prevalent when you consider that the Pansringarm character is the only person with a caring maternal instinct in the movie.

In conclusion, Only God Forgives works as a poetically symbolic piece of cinema and for that it has been unfairly derided. I did not enjoy it; I can see why others will. I myself have no interest in revisiting this masochistic, messianic misanthrope again.