Yann Gonzalez follows up 2013’s You and the Night with Knife + Heart, another retro flick featuring lashings of perversity and kinky desire. The film is headlined by a tremendous Vanessa Paradis, starring as a gay-porno producer trying to get over a broken heart.
Gonzalez’s cinematic reveries are indebted to 1970s exploitation cinema and arthouse smut. Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Jean Rollin, Walerian Borowczyk and William Friedkin’s Cruising serve as primary influencers here in his second feature, which is a dreamy mix of giallo, slasher, porn pastiche and the cinema du look period. Gonzalez’s brother Anthony, under his M83 tag, is back on board too, providing a gorgeous and lush electronic score.
A strongly presented and intriguing first half gives away to a peculiarly disjointed second, sadly. The gist of the plot is this: Anne (Paradis) makes blue movies with her partner, Lois (Kate Moran). Together for 10 years, the pair have recently split up and it’s sent Anne into a downward spiral of frightening dreams and boozy sessions lasting days. Paradis – looking like she’s stepped right out of an early 1980s cinema du look film, in platinum blonde wig and black PVC coat – depicts Anne’s immense sadness and volatile temper with a compelling flare, enabling the viewer to feel at once sympathetic and a bit worried for those in her immediate orbit. It’s also very rare in cinema, in general, to see a woman attack another so aggressively, and in such blatantly sexual fashion, that borders on rape. Anne’s desperate and violent show of passion has terrible consequences for her and Lois.
Where the film falters is the change of scenery and pace, once it temporarily moves away from being a funny giallo and slasher homage, to something more surreal and Borowczyk-like – think The Beast (1975), but with a man turning into a bird rather than a hairy wolfman with a big schlanger. Gonzalez can be masterful in conjuring sexy imagery, febrile moods and erotic frissons, but his grip on the storytelling here is weak. Knife + Heart struggles to regain its initial momentum, falling flat until a lively climax.
Co-stars Nicolas Maury and Kate Moran both appeared in You and the Night, though Moran is given little to do this time around, as nearly all the film gravitates around Paradis. Maury, who plays the director of gay porn films and sometimes acts in them, is an amusing screen presence, while the tail-end-of-the-1970s setting means the AIDS epidemic looms just over the horizon, marking Knife + Heart as a work about an end to sexual freedom and the passing of time, therefore encompassing social and personal perspectives.
The 71st Cannes Film Festival takes place from 8-19 May.
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn