Director: Yann Gonzalez
Cast: Vanessa Paradis, Kate Moran, Nicolas Maury
Watch Knife + Heart online in the UK: MUBI UK / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
The early 1980s saw the release of two very odd thrillers: Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980) and William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980). Both involved a serial killer who had some association with the LGBTQ community. These films emerged at a time when the LGBTQ community was being threatened by the likes of actual serial killers and hate crimes, and rather than present these communities and LGBTQ individuals in sensitive manners, the movies were somewhat perverse in their depictions.
Knife + Heart, the latest from director Yann Gonzalez, is very reminiscent of them, and, at certain points, becomes obsessed with recreating their bloody, disturbing violence. When Knife + Heart focuses on the dramatic aspects of its narrative, its story of a woman coming to terms with the end of a relationship is far more compelling. However, it’s a shame that the film seems too concerned with violence towards LGBTQ characters and, as a result, it feels as backwards as Dressed to Kill and Cruising, which were made nearly forty years ago.
Knife + Heart opens with a violent murder; from the get-go, this is a film not for the faint-hearted. We see a young handsome man called Fouad (Khaled Alouach) being watched by a man wearing a gimp mask, who follows Fouad. The two of them become more intimate and Fouad ends up being tied to the bed. The situation quickly shifts from erotic to violent. This scene is a somewhat copy-and-paste example of the murder scenes in Cruising, but in Knife + Heart, the violence and depravity is taken further, and the young man is repeatedly stabbed with a black, dildo-shaped knife. The victim turns out to be a porn actor who works for blue movie producer, Anne (Vanessa Paradis), who finds that those who work for her are becoming prey for the same perverted killer.
Anne is in an emotionally volatile state after breaking up with her lover and film editor Lois (Kate Moran). In one scene, Anne tearfully calls up Lois begging her to take her back and confesses that she’s been having disturbing dreams. It’s indicated that Anne is connected to these killings and she’s potentially quite unhinged, especially when she leaves threatening messages to Lois scratched into the film reels. Inspired by the murders, Anne decides to create her masterpiece with the help of her director and best friend Archibald (Nicolas Maury), a porno called ‘Homoicidal’ which is basically recreating the murders. Anne also becomes determined to find the identity of the killer. However, the lines between fiction and reality soon becomes blurred and Anne’s mental state begins to suffer as a result.
There’s much to admire about Knife + Heart. The film is visually impressive, with Simon Beaufils’ cinematography capturing the haunting underworld of the Parisian adult movie business. Beaufils’ camera slowly stalks the main characters in a voyeuristic fashion, and is often tightly framed so there’s a sense of claustrophobia. The film is often bathed with beautiful and bold red and blue light, which recalls Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977), and while the violence is quite graphic compared to Argento’s vivid technicolor imaginings, its clear to see that giallo has been an obvious influence on Gonzalez.
At its centre is a very strong performance from Vanessa Paradis who slowly descends into madness as the film unfolds. Paradis’ Anne is hardly the easiest character to warm to, but Paradis manages to have restraint and doesn’t cross the line of becoming too overdramatic. She brings maturity and a sense of experience to this performance, and one gets the impression that in less-than-capable hands, this character would have been portrayed as being another manic, hysterical woman.
Knife + Heart is unapologetic in every sense of the word, but aside from its visuals and Paradis, it’s hard to find much enjoyment. The major issue is that it’s too violent and depraved; often the murder scenes are too much to stomach, as if Gonzalez is morbidly obsessed with outdoing himself with every murder. A word of warning: this is one film you’re not going to want to watch with grandparents.
Knife + Heart is available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription, until 4th August 2019.
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