Here is a film that will be catnip for a very specific audience. As if you were having a very gay acid trip watching Dario Argento’s “Suspiria”, “Knife + Heart” is a homage to giallo – the Italian proto-slasher genre of the 70s. Yann Gonzalez’s second film combines porn aesthetics and surreal and arty montages to create something akin to a drag performance. It is a slasher seen with a strange lens, soaked in color.
We are in 1979 in Paris. Vanessa Paradis plays Anne, a porn producer whose girlfriend and editor Lois (Kate Moran) just broke up with her. A mess that drinks a little too much, Anne resolves to make the ultimate film that reclaims Lois. Meanwhile, various members of his company are tracked down by a leather-clad killer wielding a switchblade dildo, giving him the idea for his magnum opus. Fantasy and reality begin to collide as Anne struggles to stay together before the next person is murdered.
As you would expect from a late ’70s gay porn movie, “Knife + Heart” is pretty graphic. He’s not afraid to go into the details of a gay porn shoot, and that look filters through pretty much every scene. Gonzalez demonstrates an eye for direction, creating artful frames that just feel tacky and artificial enough. This extends to pornographic scenes, filmed in grainy eightmm and extravagantly performed by Anne’s friend and fellow actor and director, Archibald (Nicolas Maury). To some, that may sound like zero on its own, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
Under the joyous transgression emerges a deeper feeling of sadness and melancholy interspersed with joy. Sometimes it’s a world inhabited only by homosexuals, as Gonzalez described in an interview. This illusion is interrupted by recurring scenes suggesting that the police are not particularly concerned with investigating a crime centered mainly on “monsters”, even if it results in several deaths.
As with much queer art in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the specter of AIDS hovers like the movie crows appearing alongside future victims. We could easily read the film as a metaphor for the epidemic that was to shake up the gay community in a few years, as the government did nothing. Later in the film, the themes of self-loathing and homophobia pit gays against each other, causing more pain and harm in the process. The film is not particularly concerned with these subjects– he’s content with making hot jokes and serving heaps of sex and blood, along with the somewhat convoluted explanation of why the killer kills.
The equally dreamy score of M83 (aka Anthony Gonzalez, Yann’s brother) anchors sumptuous and dreamy visuals to neon. It taps into a well of vintage-sounding synths punctuated with dramatic changes in distortion and drones similar to his previous works like “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts”, providing the perfect atmosphere for dreamy sequences and scenes from club.
“Knife + Heart” is really a niche movie, and for some, the campy tone can be a drag. Stick to it, and the result is an elegant and dark thriller, shamelessly eerie and confident in its movements: one of the best of the year.