Review: Knife + Heart

Film Editor | Graciela Mae Chico

Our Film Editor, Graciela Mae Chico was a part of the BFI London Film Festival last October and this February.

KNIFE_120_70x100_HD-1Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year, Yann Gonzalez’s unapologetic, genre-subverting Knife + Heart (Un couteau dans le cœur) once again graced London screens for the 2019 BFI Flare Film Festival.

Set in 1979 Paris, Loïs (Played by Gonzalez’s longtime collaborator Kate Moran) is editing a low-budget ‘blue movie’ starring a tall, curly-haired young man named Karl. As she speeds through the rushes, the film crosscuts to scenes showing Karl’s brutal demise. Behind the murder is a masked figure using a switchblade masked as a dildo — the first of several mysterious crimes. Karl worked for porn director Anne (Vanessa Paradis), an alcoholic lesbian who is longingly in love with Loïs. As the film mourns the rising death toll of Anne’s ‘boys’, it also mourns a once deep but increasingly unreciprocated love.

[It] mourns a once deep but increasingly unreciprocated love.

In her attempt to win back Loïs, Anne takes the proverb ‘write what you know’ to a whole new level: she pivots her new film around the murders, cheekily calling it ‘Homocidal’. The explicit reimagining of police investigations further add to her ridiculous yet undeniably charming filmography. Albeit a fictional character, Anne’s arty blue movies exhibit a signature akin to auteurship. Gonzalez emulates the same distinct flare throughout the film; seamlessly switching between slasher, romance, and thriller, with a bleakly humorous script.

Such an amalgam of genres would seem impossible to see harmoniously working together, but Knife + Heart, with its distinct and unapologetic storytelling, does just that. Similar to early New Queer CinemaTodd Haynes’ Poison (1991) for example — the film implicitly brings the 1980s AIDS crisis into focus.  Not only the death of these men but the community bond that grows stronger as they try to grieve and fight for their loss together. Anne’s attempts at getting the nonchalant police to continue the murder investigations particularly ring true to history.

Like Haynes’ Poison, Knife + Heart is a playful and fearless visual feast. Shot on a 35mm by Simon Beaufils, the film exudes its colourful story in psychedelic, neon colours. The fully charged visuals, accompanied by the enchanting, retro synth-pop score by M83, queers the 70s slashers the film is reminiscent of. As noted by many, it is a ‘campy homage to Giallo’.

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A campy homage to Giallo.

Indeed, the film stars the serial killers of drama-thrillers, and the suspense and scares of horror, but at its heart is a woman longing for the woman she loves, chronicling the end of a love story through a queer and neon coloured lens. Knife + Heart is an ineffable rarity in its congruous combination of contradictory elements, creating a surreal film that is altogether dangerous and sexy.

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