There is something about French dramas that cut down to the bone. After watching Blue is the Warmest Color I was left raw and hungover for a full day. Then I watched Yann Gonzalez’ You and the Night, and I felt totally deconstructed once more. Thankfully, Gonzalez came back again to gift us with his French take on a giallo, KNIFE + HEART, and induce a whirlwind of sensual, chaotic, and honest emotions.
It is 1979 Paris and the AIDS epidemic is just around the corner. It is considered the Golden Age of pornographic film thanks to Andy Warhol’s 1969 release of Blue Movie. Blue films are starting to incorporate plots and have higher production value. Unfortunately, the growing scene comes with horrific risks as we see in the captivating opening sequence. Shot on 16mm, Gonzalez captures a gay porn film actor, Karl, going from dancing in a nightclub to being brutally murdered by a leather-masked man with a dildo switchblade. The scenes are wonderfully transitioned by going from Malaria!’s intense rager sound Trash Me to M83’s more ambient, slow and electronic Karl. The entire soundtrack for this film is outstanding. Gonzalez collaborated with M83 (which includes his brother, Anthony) and helped create the perfect score for a retro and dreamlike film.
Transition to 35mm, we meet Anne Parèze (Vanessa Paradis), our love-sick auteur, who after being rejected by her ex and film editor, Loïs (Kate Moran, You and the Night), during a drunk and desperate scene, she decides to try a different route to win back Loïs’ affections – impress her with Anne’s best film yet. So, Anne sets out with the help from her hilarious and flamboyant director, Archibald (Nicolas Maury, You and the Night), to find the perfect cast for her new film. But as she builds up her cast someone is tearing it down – one by one. Everyone deals with grief differently, but Anne is fortunate enough to have an artistic outlet. In a blurry loop of life imitating art and art imitating life, Anne uses these murders as a plot line for her pornographic film, “Homocidal”.
As we get deeper into the film we start to investigate these murders. Anne follows a proverbial trail of breadcrumbs laid out by a blind crow with serious “three-eyed Raven” vibes from Game of Thrones. This leads to the more dreamlike sequence of the film as Anne finds herself in a forest in search of clues of dark family history. Though this is clearly an important part of the film, it is my least favorite as it took me out of the intensity of the relationship between Anne and Loïs. Though admittedly saccharine, Anne’s unwavering love for Loïs was so compelling, tragic, and stressful. Every time Loïs lets down her wall it was brief, so you had only empathy for Anne. However, this tug-of-war of emotions spiraled Anne out of control leading her down a dark path where it becomes unclear where our sympathies lie – if not for both of them.
Dario Argento-inspired blue and red hues splashed throughout the film making KNIFE + HEART feel like a gritty, retro slasher that is woven into a haunting and tragic love story. But KNIFE + HEART is so much more than that. We are witnessing how society reacts to gay people being killed – with not much urgency. In the end, it is the gay community who has to take matters into their own hands to stop the litany of targeted murders; and it is these gay men who are soon going to have to confront the faceless killer of AIDS.