Nicolas Winding Refn’s Hennessy Commercial Is Exactly What You’d Expect
Even for a big-name auteur, there’s no shame in directing a commercial every now and then. Martin Scorsese shilled for casinos in Macau, David Lynch repped Calvin Klein, and Wes Anderson’s probably enjoying a lifetime supply of Stella Artois right about now. It’s a nice fat paycheck, and an easy way to keep busy between jobs. Nicolas Winding Refn has never been shy about corporate partnerships, agreeing to a spot for Gucci featuring Blake Lively, not to mention those stylish but inscrutable Lincoln advertisements with koan-dispensing Matthew McConaughey. Refn has now gotten back in the commercial game while his latest feature The Neon Demon (which, how has that not been the title of any of his films until now?) awaits release with a new spot for Hennessy.
The choice beverage of rappers preparing to act a fool up in the club, the cognac colloquially known as ‘Henny’ tapped Refn to direct their latest ad campaign for the X.O.-brand cognac, and the resultant 90-second short is about as Refn as it gets. The director of such films as Drive and Only God Forgives managed to condense all of his pet motifs and visual signatures into a more concentrated package than ever: sinister electronica courtesy of regular collaborator Clint Mansell, wild experiments with color, cool designs on the backs of jackets, questionably necessary chapter headings, claustrophobic close-ups of eyeballs, and an overall aesthetic of sleek sensuousness all mark this as another standard Refn.
How a stroboscopic shot of a gold-leafed woman in an indistinctly tribal headdress is supposed to make the viewer want liquor is not clear, but what is clear is that whether he knows it or not, Refn’s been waiting his whole career to make this commercial. His formal style perfectly suits the advertisement form, what with its emphasis on indelible images and sensations over plot, character, or dialogue. The only slam dunk more straightforward would be Terrence Malick for Chanel perfume.