Yann Gonzalez’s second film Knife + Heart might just be one of 2018/19’s strangest and niche festival highlights. A gay porn director deciding to make her most ambitious project after her editor girlfriend leaves her and a gimp mask wearing, dildo switchblade wielding murderer picks off her cast one by one certainly doesn’t scream ‘mass appeal’. Knife + Heart definitely wasn’t made for a mass audience but its neon drenched mix of slasher, fantasy and 70s porn fashions delivers all the trimmings needed for a cult audience.
Vanessa Paradis plays Anne Parèze, the alcoholic director in question, making bargain bin male-on-male pornography and reeling from her recent breakup with her editor Loïs (Kate Moran). Anne appears dressed not unlike Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, or a Blade Runner bombshell with a PVC jacket. She’s the deftly complex female character that genre film cries out for; messy, rules with an iron fist, troubled, heartbroken and strangely endearing. Her story of self-discovery and artistic endeavour take place in a stylised underbelly of 1979 Paris where sex and drugs appear to be the only currency. Gonzalez makes sure to revel in the delights of a world prior to the AIDs crisis, where gay sex was something to explore and be enjoyed. He treats each member of the LGBT community depicted here with a sense of dignity and unbridled passion with many scenes of sleaze also tinted with a contagious flirtatious joy.
Our first exposure to this world is during the opening scene in a gay bar, with harnesses, leather and jockstraps galore we meet Karl (Bastien Waultier), a young porn performer out celebrating his latest film. He is seduced outside by a masked individual and goes home with him, only to be brutally stabbed and murdered with a dildo switchblade- the film takes the phallic weapon theory of slasher movies to a whole other level. Anne is unshaken by the news of her film stars passing and continues to work on her failing projects but sadly her numbers continue to dwindle, as the killer strikes multiple times with his identity still unknown.
Inspired by the atrocious acts threatening her community, Anne plans her most ambitious project yet, ‘Homicidal’ alongside her best friend Archibald (Nicolas Maury), and they begin to recruit young construction workers from the countryside to star in the project, all the while trying to figure out the identity of the killer. Visions regularly flash across the screen in a negative image, distorted memories come nightmares that possess a distinct Lynchian feel to them and a mythical black crow appears whenever the killer is near.
Knife + Heart tantalises with these fantastical moments and dips its toe in the waters of something entirely outside the films common realm. Assisted by the blue-green neon glow surrounding so many of the films scenes and a hypnotising score from electronic band M83, the meticulous visual crafting of the films campy and Giallo-inspired world lessens the blow of the quite horrific moments of violence delivered by the masked killer.
The intersections of the passions of love and violence are the films core, hence the film’s title. Seeing Anne quickly unravel over her lost love and the passion she has to maintain it, much to the disagreement of Loïs, is not unlike the maniacal rage that possesses the killer to commit his crimes. When all is revealed in the film’s final scenes it seems evident that both parties act out of passionate love and hate in equal measure- ultimately it is a story of forbidden love. Anne regularly talks to her performers throughout the film about “losing yourself” with another person, a carnal desire to rip each other apart and explore their insides; whether its sex or murder, both feel particularly well entwined here.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screen Queens. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her lifesource is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends way too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here