By Rod Lott.
Whereas several of Brian De Palma’s works famously suggested tools and utensils as phallic, Yann Gonzalez’s Knife+Heart removes all doubt. Right from scene one of his giallo-influenced LGBTQ arthouse thriller, young and able-bodied men succumb to the fatal thrusts of a serial killer’s knife whose blade is concealed in retracted form by a jet-black dildo.
Needless to say, like the best and worst of Lars von Trier or Gaspar Noé, Knife+Heart is Not for Everyone’s Tastes. Set with explicit and unflinching confidence in a heroin-ravaged world of gay porn, the French-language film (Un couteau dans le coeur in its native tongue) gives zero fucks (only metaphorically speaking, mind you) about its subject matter and whom it may offend. To paraphrase Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg’s current ideological argument with staunchly conservative (read: anti-gay) Vice President Mike Pence, if you’ve got a problem with the content, your problem is not with Gonzalez. That is not to say, however, the filmmaker succeeds in substance and story as much as style.
In 1979 Paris (oozing neon like it’s 1985), Anne (Vanessa Paradis, Fading Gigolo) makes a living as a purveyor of gay porn. She also nurses a broken heart over the collapse of her relationship with film editor Lois (strong Kate Moran, the lead of Gonzalez’s 2013 debut feature, You and the Night) through copious swings of alcohol and channeling her misery into a new movie, albeit one exploiting the first murder victim, who performed for her camera. That’s a jarring swing for someone whose “all shadows and blood and death” nightmares terrify her, then whose real-life interrogation by the police inspires her to shoot a scene in which an erect member dry-humps a typewriter. Hey, when the muse of creativity calls….
Although Anne is a fairly pathetic and repellent character, Knife+Heart still wants us – I think – to find her compelling enough to follow. If not for Paradis’ unconventional beauty and go-for-broke instincts, Gonzalez’s “ask” might have backfired spectacularly. Her performance is key to his flip of the script, placing a woman in what normally would be the Michael Douglas role, to name the premier protagonist of the psychosexual subgenre. Here, for a change, it’s the men who are objectified – “Far out, yellow briefs!” calls Anne’s trusted collaborator, Archibald (Nicolas Maury, another You and the Night alum), to just one of several faceless bodies cavorting in their underwear in foreplay to a group-sex scene; they are so tissue-disposable, they don’t even deserve names. We get to see Anne recruiting “talent” in Nans (newcomer Khaled Alouach), a laborer all baby-faced and curl-topped … and hetero, yet sweet-talked and figuratively seduced into chucking the clothes – and ideals – by the lure of the almighty dollar – er, franc. In doing so, Gonzalez toys with tropes and gender as Lois plays with reels of celluloid: in reverse and sliced and diced.
Provocative hardly begins to describe Gonzalez’s “homocidal” (the film’s word, not mine) blitz of felonies and fellatio. The writer/director seems less interested in the killings by the full-masked man (a leatherface, lowercased) and more interested in the button-pushing exploitation that results, right down to a preposterous ending. Yet from its blood-red and baby-blue start to that stark-white finish, at least Knife+Heart heeds Hollywood’s advice of leaving a good-looking corpse.
Rod Lott runs the genre film website FlickAttack.com. A former professional journalist, he has written for Psychotronic Video, Something Weird Video and numerous books.