Starring Vanessa Paradis, Kate Moran, Nicolas Maury
Written by Yann Gonzalez, Cristiano Mangione
Directed by Yann Gonzalez
At the opening night screening at Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema, Knife + Heart was preceded by a music video at the insistence of the director, who wanted to “set the tone” for the film. The video is a French New Wave disco jam in which a woman goes on a man-hating murder spree, only to be swarmed by the undead men she killed. It certainly prepares the audience for the grisly kill sequences that follow in the feature, as well as director Yann Gonzalez’ highly stylized storytelling in his latest feature film Knife + Heart.
Knife + Heart‘s plot is as follows: In 1979, gay porn producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) is attempting to pull off her magnum opus. Her production is interrupted by a masked killer who picks her actors off one by one. The opening sequence that immediately follows the music video is something out of a Sergio Martino joint; an oscillation back and forth between an anonymous pair of hands editing a film, and the luring and killing of a gay adult film actor by a masked man, all to the pulses of M83’s electro beats. As the film goes on, several other actors attached to the same production meet similar fates, often by way of a bladed dildo in a more depraved version of Peeping Tom‘s camera shiv. The metaphorical implications of such a murder weapon would normally be a bit on the nose, but a phallused shank is right at home in a giallo-steeped murder mystery.
The eye figures heavily into Knife + Heart‘s narrative. From peeping Toms to blind birds to audience spectatorship in a theater, sight (or the lack thereof) is often positioned as ownership; a person sees someone onscreen and assumes ownership of them through these images. How this ownership is consummated becomes a running motif of the film. Everyone in this movie is an object in some way or another; one orally talented individual is only referred to as “Mouth”. Murder becomes a way to possess a desired object as much as sex is a way to devour the object of one’s affections.
Anne’s latest feature, titled Homocidal, is her ode to her former lover, film editor Lois (Kate Moran). After an awkward late-night phone call in which Lois fails to reciprocate Anne’s love, Anne pours her heart into every shot, every scene of her project. Likewise, Vanessa Paradis pours herself into the role of Anne breathlessly, emoting whiskey-soaked longing and slave-driving callousness with equal zeal. After a booze-soaked crying jag one night, Anne breaks into the editing room with a pair of scissors and scrawls the message, “You killed me” onto a strip of film stock for Lois to see the next time she runs the dailies. Film cutting and splicing in the editing room is juxtaposed with mutilations of the body throughout the story, all serving a greater theme of the consumptive, sometimes harmful pathos of desire. Gonzalez’ awareness of 70s exploitation announces itself in scene after scene, and the sensuality that is embroidered through his past screenplays (Island, You and the Night) is given gainful employment among both the principal characters and the fictional gay films Anne creates.
For those who’ve exhausted all of the Euro-horror currently streaming, Knife + Heart offers a potent strobe-lit dive into the mania of lust, both of the flesh and of the blood.
A stunning exploration of possession, awash in Bava’s reds and blues.