Sydney festival lauds Only God Forgives

16 June, 2013 by Don Groves

It was booed by the critics at the Cannes Film Festival but Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives won the top prize at the Sydney Film Festival.

Jury president Hugo Weaving conceded the “visually mesmerising and disturbing film” had polarised the jury and said it was a majority decision to award the bleak drama the $60,000 Sydney Film Prize.


Icon is due to release the film, which stars Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas and Vithaya Pansringarm, on July 18. It's described as a brutal story of betrayal, rage and redemption set in the Thai underworld. 

Typifying the hostile response in Cannes, IndieWire's Eric Kohn said, “Refn stages each scene with the self-serious bleakness of a Robert Bresson picture, but applies such a cheap, one-note premise that his air quote approach to art house aesthetics reeks of student film indulgence."

“I am very honoured and extremely excited to have received this honourable award from a country that in my opinion has one of the great film histories of the world,” said Refn, who won the Sydney Film Prize for his 2009 British prison thriller Bronson.

Other films in competition included The Act of Killing, a powerful re-enactment of the Sumatran genocides from documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer; Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam’s comedy BorgmanThe Broken Circle Breakdown from Belgian director Felix van Groeningen; Calin Peter Netzer's Romanian drama Child’s Pose; For Those in Peril, the feature debut of Scottish director Paul Wright; Australian director Kim Mordaunt’s Laos-set The Rocket ; Canadian director Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell;  and Wadjda from Saudi Arabia's first female director Haifa Al Mansour.

The jury comprised Weaving, filmmakers Anand Gandhi (India) and Pia Marais (Sweden/Germany), film critic and curator Paolo Bertolin (Italy) and Australian producer Kath Shelper.