A testament to the great inconvenience of personal movie making
Phie Ambo's documentary "Gambler" follows Danish auteur movie maker Nicolas Winding Refn during and after the making of "Pusher 2". It makes the assertion that Refn's decision to follow up his hugely successful "Pusher" from 1996, the highest-grossing Danish directorial debut movie ever, with two sequels is risky business; hence the title. In reality it is the the most secure career move available to Refn whose production company went bankrupt with box office disaster "Fear X" in 2003. Although the soul of the trilogy is art-house, it has huge mainstream appeal.
The biggest success of "Gambler" lies in its portrait of Refn's day-to-day life during a stressful period of dealing with actors, the bank, his producer, his girlfriend Liv Corfixen, and, last but not least, his inner demons. One feels for Refn as he struggles, and barely manages to finance his projects. In that respect this is a testament to the great inconvenience of making personal movies in a commercial world. Rumor has it that Refn is a cynical manipulator that will do literally anything to get the performances he needs from his actors. It is therefore nice to see him appear actually very humane and responsible towards his actors, specifically former drug addict Kurt Nielsen, whom Refn locates a weekend cottage for to stay in in a time when Kurt feels especially inclined to relapse. Moviebuffs should find great pleasure in Refn's cool movie stuff, among it a huge "Cannibal Holocaust" poster hanging above Nicolas' and Liv's bed - any woman willing to accept such a poster above her bed has to be the dream wife of any movie buff!
The documentary is constructed chronologically, and takes on a fly-on-the-wall approach, in the tradition of Barbara Kopple ("Harlan County U.S.A.", "Shut Up & Sing"), with director Phie Ambo never seen or heard once, however sometimes with the participants speaking directly to the camera. It is, however, also very cinematic utilizing several stylistic tools, e.g. recurring close-ups of a Treo tablet, which Refn apparently is somewhat addicted to, dissolving in a glass of water (as a metaphor for Refn's disintegrating career situation) and the montage sequences in the the beginning and end. As a result it has a very cinematic feel to it, and the fact that it had cinema distribution (by new Danish distribution company Dox-on-Wheels) seems reasonable.
"Gambler" is not just for the fans. It contains plenty of drama, and Refn's struggles resonate far beyond the movie world. Several documentaries on Refn and his "Pusher" trilogy exist. This one is justifiable for its unique portrayal of the Danish art-house director's day-to-day life. "Gambler" is, its aforementioned assertion aside, an interesting and well-made documentary, and a testament to the great inconvenience of personal movie making. 7/10
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