Knife+Heart aka Un couteau dans le coeur, a horror thriller from director Yann Gonzalez, is a film that will make you squirm, laugh out loud, cover your eyes, and sear images into your head that you’ll never be rid of…and that’s only in the first 15 minutes.
Set in 1979, the film tells the story of Anne (Vanessa Paradis), a lesbian in Paris who directs low-budget gay porn. Her lover, Lois (Kate Moran), who also edits her films, has left her because she can no longer deal with her alcoholism, and as the film opens, it’s clear that Anne will do anything to win Lois back.
When one of her stars is murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion, she, along with her gay best friend and sometime actor Archibald (Nicolas Maury), hatches a plan to win Lois back by creating her greatest film.
How, you ask?
By recreating the murder as only a 1970s French porn director could, of course!
If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because on the surface it is, but Gonzalez, who co-wrote the film along with Cristiano Mangione, never lets the film or its characters stray so far into that territory that he loses the fear factor.
What’s most stunning from Gonzalez and Knife+Heart, however, is the unflinching gaze of the directors lens.
The murders in the film, much like the films that most commonly fall under the heading of giallo, are almost operatic in their scope with enough blood and gore to make Argento and Bava stand up and cheer.
I don’t want to give away too much, but if you imagine the kind of damage one might inflict with a switchblade concealed inside a dildo, you’ll get a taste of what the film has in store for viewers.
Added to this is the fact that the film was actually “filmed” in 35 mm which only serves to bolster its sense of nostalgia. You won’t find clean, HD lines and coloring here. Rather, you’ll see gloriously faded, harshly lit, frenetically stylized reality set to a pulse-pounding score by M83.
For her part, Paradis is brilliant in the role of Anne. Her desperation is palpable and the audience feels for her even when she makes horrible decisions. She unabashedly sets the tone for everyone else in the film with the freedom of her honest, raw performance.
Likewise, the men who play her porn actors attack their roles with abandon. Their scenes together speak to an incredible bond sexually and emotionally, and while Gonzalez never attempts to glorify the world in which they exist, he certainly shows that family comes in all shapes and sizes.
Which brings me to a final point, and a word of advice to my fellow queer audience members.
Knife+Heart, unlike the majority of films we see, is unashamedly, unabashedly queer with not one single straight couple in sight which is where Gonzalez and his crew completely diverge from their giallo forebears.
Borrowing elements from films like Cruising–the opening kill is almost a direct homage–he crafted Knife+Heart as an assault to the senses for more than one homophobic straight audience member, I’m certain, but there will also be elements to test the queer audience.
Our community was much different in 1979, more separated, and the focus often fell on sexuality rather than identify. This film reflects that time with a sort of hyper-honesty that will make us squirm for good reason.
It also reminds us of the things that have not changed, and the way that our own internalized homophobia that can rear its ugly head when we are around other members of our community.
It highlights, through exploitation, the often ugly hierarchy of power within the community and the premium we set on perfect bodies, perfect faces, and idealized masculinity and femininity.
In short, it is a film that is as thought-provoking as it is terrifying, as gritty and sexy and raw as it is beautiful. It is a transgressive queer masterpiece that will no doubt anger as many as it thrills.
Knife+Heart has release dates set for March 15, 2019 in New York and March 22, 2019 in Los Angeles with the promise of more screening dates to come. Check out the trailer below!