Cannes: Walkouts and boos at first ever screening of Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Only God Forgives’

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Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to the superb thriller, Drive, has had its premiere at the Cannes film festival. Only God Forgives, which see’s Ryan Gosling once again working with Refn, screened yesterday and reports are coming in of a bit of a messy screening.

While there were some in the audience who clapped and cheered the film, it sounds like the violence was too much for some, resulting in the majority of attendees booing the film (something which is a bit of a Cannes tradition), and some ever walking out. One American woman walked out, declaring loudly “this is shit!”

In 2011 Refn won the Best Director prize at Cannes fro his stunning film, Drive, but hopes of doing that again this year may well have been well ad truly squashed.  Kyle Buchanan of Vulture claims that the film was booed by critics due to the extreme violence, and he started his review saying:

“To judge from the boos and whistles after the Only God Forgives screening today, I wouldn’t exactly lay odds on a ‘Best Director’ repeat for Refn.”

He added later: “When one character stuck his hand inside a woman’s slashed body, the audience locked and loaded its boos. Gosling doesn’t have much to say in this movie, but the auditorium sure did.”

There were plenty of positives to the film, and as many have said, how a film is reacted to at Cannes does not necessarily mean the rest of us will feel the same. The Guardian finished off their review of the film saying:

“Only God Forgives will, understandably, have people running for the exits, and running for the hills. It is very violent, but Winding Refn’s bizarre infernal creation, an entire created world of fear, really is gripping. Every scene, every frame, is executed with pure formal brilliance. I’m afraid it’s going to be even nastier the next time I watch it”

Twitch were even kinder in their review, saying:

“Critics are bound to balk anytime a filmmaker chooses style over substance. But when a director is able to execute this kind of style to such perfection, it can only be considered a home run. It may be far less accessible than Drive, but Refn and his team have done something truly special in the artistry of Only God Forgives. Sometimes it is worthwhile to just sit back and marvel”

During the press conference after the films screening, many points were discussed, including the films shocking violence. Reported to contain dismemberments, torture and eye gouging, the film also has Kristin Scott Thomas portraying a very vile Mother. All these points were addressed in the press conference.

Challenged on the film’s violence, Winding Refn said: “Well, art is an act of violence. It is about penetration, about speaking to our subconscious and our moods at different levels.”

He added: “I don’t consider myself a very violent man … but I have surely a fetish for violent emotions and images and I just can’t explain where it comes from. But I do believe it’s a way to exorcise various things. Let’s not forget that humans were created very violent: our body parts are created for violence, it is our instinctual need to survive. But over the years we no longer need violence but we still have an urge from when we are born – which itself can be an act of violence.”

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Ryan Gosling was unable to attend the screening as he his busy shooting his directorial debut, How to Catch A Monster, but a letter from the star was read out by Thierry Fremaux:

“Hi all. Can’t believe I’m not in Cannes. I was hoping to come but I’m on week three shooting my film in Detroit. Miss you all. Nicolas, my friend, we really are the same persons in different dimensions. I’m sending you good vibrations. I’m with you all today, Nic, Kristin, Vithaya and the whole team. Go with god.”

In the press conference, Refn explained a little about Goslings character, Julian:

“The idea of Julian’s character was a man who was on some sort of journey but did not know what he is going towards. We spoke about the character of the sleepwalker, destined to move, who does not know where he is going. He is bound and chained to his mother’s womb.”

And speaking of his Mother, Kristin Scott Thomas plays the vile character. Thomas has since said of the role:

“Films where this kind of violence happens I don’t enjoy watching at all” and joked that as the film was made “it got more and more despicable”

Refn said that Thomas “ has no problem turning on the bitch switch,” 

However, there was one line of dialogue Thomas really struggled with, the word “cum dumpster” is considered one of the worst insults you can say to a woman in the US, and if you watch the clip below, you will see that Thomas had to say this, and she struggled:

 “I think if it had been prepared weeks ahead I would have been terrified of it. The confidence that was building between all of us allowed us to go beyond these taboo things.”

Refn said of the screenplay in the press conference:

“I was in an existentialist phase, full of troubles. I was permanently angry and didn’t know how to channel it. In those moments, you turn to God. That’s when I had the idea of a man who thinks he’s God and of the relationship between an all-devouring mother and her son. The film I’ve made  is about the notions of spirituality and mysticism.”



The film arrives in UK cinemas August 2nd.

Only God Forgives is written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The violent revenge thriller stars Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Burke, Vithaya Pansringarm and Yayaying.


Ten years ago in Bangkok Julian killed a cop and went on the run. Now he manages a Thai boxing club as a front for a drugs operation. Respected in the criminal underworld, deep inside, he feels empty.

When Julian’s brother kills a prostitute, the police reaches out to retired cop Chang, known as the Angel of Vengeance. Chang allows the father to kill his daughters murderer, then restores order by chopping off the man’s right hand.

Julian’s mother Jenna, the head of a powerful criminal organization, arrives in Bangkok to collect her son’s body. She orders Julian to find his killers and raise hell.

Increasingly obsessed with the Angel of Vengeance, Julian challenges him to a boxing match, hoping that by defeating him he might find spiritual release but Chang triumphs. A furious Jenna plots revenge and the stage is set for a bloody journey through betrayal and vengeance towards a final confrontation and the possibility of redemption

About Matt Wavish 10001 Articles
A keen enthusiast and collector of all horror and extreme films. I can be picky as i like quality in my horror. This doesn't necessarily mean it has to be a classic, but as long as it has something to impress me then i'm a fan. I watch films by the rule that if it doesn't bring out some kind of emotive response then it aint worth watching.

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