Knife + Heart (Un couteau dans le cœur) first published by Little White Lies
In the middle of Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart (Un couteau dans la cœur), Anne (Vanessa Paradis) wanders into a gay bar, and watches a cabaret performance in which a she-wolf, in embracing her human beloved, also tears her apart. This performance of Liebestod reflects something essential about the destructive nature of its immediate audience’s love. For porn producer Anne has been left utterly heartbroken by the end of a ten-year relationship, and now finds herself behaving in a predatory fashion towards her ex, the editor Lois (Kate Moran), spying on her, Psycho-like, through a peephole, stalking her in the streets, and at one point even sexually assaulting her. “You turned into a monster,” Lois will write to Anne.
Set in 1979, and shot in highly stylised blues and reds to suggest the colour-coding of a giallo (or of the monstrously looming cinema of the Eighties), Knife + Heart is all about the perversion of passion, and its reflection in performance. For as Anne and Lois work – separately – on their latest porn film, and Anne etches the message ‘You have killed me’ into one of the reels for Lois to see, a mysterious leather-masked figure is murdering male members of the cast with a switchblade dildo, enacting yet another story of love gone wrong. Soon Anne has changed the title of her film from Anal Fury to Homocidal, and is incorporating elements of the actual murder investigation into the porn scenario – and she is also, in pursuit of the killer, following clues from her dreams (shown in photographic negative).
So Knife + Heart is a gay slasher, falling somewhere between William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) and Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By the Lake (L’inconnu du lac, 2013) – but it also a dreamy evocation of a particular time and place, a nostalgic adoration of a filmic genre (gay porn) normally dismissed as aesthetically void, a mannered piece of neon camp that plunges unexpectedly into deepest melancholy, and an exploration of the way that film, that most voyeuristic and fetishistic of art forms, triggers our unconscious memories, capturing our innermost dreams and desires. For in Gonzalez’s mirror world, Anne’s nightmare (when she falls asleep in a porn theatre) plays out as a similar porn cinema scene from John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981), while the film’s antagonist looks like the burn-scarred dream slasher Freddie Krueger from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Here movie monsters are mere avatars of a desire that has been denied, repressed or unrequited, bringing their strange mythologies of transformation into a real world where love hurts, even kills.
No matter how cheap and tawdry Anne’s productions might appear, they are invested with feelings of loss and longing that are all too genuine, and that can arouse the worst as well as the best in anyone viewing. The result is a luridly coloured, transgressively queered piece of self-conscious schlock where cutting is the business of lovesick killers as much as filmmakers – and both cut right to the heart.
Anticipation: Really enjoyed Gonzalez’s You and the Night
Enjoyment: Those colours! and M83’s swooning score!
In Retrospect: Queer metacinematic giallo slays it.
© Anton Bitel