Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn returns to theaters on July 8 with his tenth feature film "The Neon Demon". The director, known for his shocking and violent brand of film making, makes no exception as he follows the fate of Jesse (Elle Fanning), an aspiring model out to hit the big time in LA.
The film's reception has been divisive, booed at a press screening and receiving a seven minute ovation at its premiere at Cannes, all in the space of a day. Refn says the film even prompted two fist fights among critics.
"There will always be an opinion, and I'd rather have that than nothing," says Refn. "If you don't have an emotional impact, what's the point of sitting through it?"
Co-stars Bella Heathcote and real life supermodel Abbey Lee play Jesse's competitors. Refn says he wanted the film's locations to reflect a Ballardian universe, spanning downbeat motels in Pasadena to Silver Lakes, to luxury villas in Malibu.
Refn says his film is about beauty and the obsession with it, rather than the fashion industry itself. The director, who has shot shorts for Gucci in the past, says he is "fascinated by [fashion], and love it as much as I fear it."
Fanning says there was nothing she refused to do during the shoot. A child star whose credits stretch back to when she was two years old, she is now considered, like Ryan Gosling, Tom Hardy and Mads Mikkelsen before her, to be one of the director's muses.
Jenna Malone plays Ruby, a makeup artist who lives a double life plying her trade with models and corpses in a local morgue.
"The Neon Demon" was shot in chronological order, a way, says Refn, of allowing his actors to develop along with their characters. This high degree of flexibility is unorthodox when it comes to film making these days, and not without its advantages -- when Refn decided he didn't like the ending, he ripped it up and wrote another.
Fanning, who was 16 years old when production began, turned 18 just in time for the premiere at Cannes Film Festival in May. Refn, speaking in London ahead of the film's release, says Fanning's character Jesse explores who Refn would have wanted to be, had he been a 16-year-old girl.
"The Neon Demon" is released in the U.S. on June 24 and the UK on July 8.