Film Review: Knife+Heart

29 July 19 words: Ian C. Douglas

A porn producer, a broken heart, a serial killer… what more could we want from a French thriller?

DirectorYann Gonzalez

StarringVanessa Paradis, Kate Moran, Nicolas Maury

Running time: 102 mins

Let’s make one thing clear from the get-go. There are a lot of sex scenes in this film, mostly man-on-man action and to a lesser degree, girl-on-girl. If this disturbs you, please stop reading this review now and try another movie.

This French language movie is set in Paris in 1979. The protagonist, Anne, is a fiery alcoholic who makes gay porn for a living. Anne finds her actors among the rent boys, junkies and crossdressers of Paris and they make for a colourful yet vulnerable crew. As the movie begins, her long-term girlfriend has dumped her, no longer able to tolerate Anne’s abusive behaviour. But Anne has a lot more on her plate, as a masked serial killer is murdering off her actors, and in gruesome, sexualised ways. The psycho’s weapon of choice is a large black dildo.

At first, Anne takes inspiration and makes movies based on the killings. Or are the killings based on her work? Is Art imitating life or the other way around? Boundaries blur.

Meanwhile, the police prove useless. However, a cop gives her their only clue, one of the dark blue feathers found at each crime scene. Anne goes off on her own investigation, a journey that takes her deep into a dreamy, surreal landscape, where urban legend collides with tragedy. Will she unmask the killer? And of course, why does he (or she) target Anne’s troop of skinny young porn stars?  

If you like your movies grisly, arty and with plenty of same-sex thrusting, check out this thriller

Fans of erotic European cinema will love this. The film is a homage to the Italian genre of Giallo, pulpy movies about slashers and serial killers, with a dash of the supernatural. There are echoes of Dario Argento’s oeuvre, such as Suspiria. Knife+Heart even has the wit of a Pedro Almodovar story, only with a lot more bloodshed.

Vanessa Paradis is best known outside of France for her controversial eighties pop hit, Joe Le Taxi. And of course, for being Mrs Johnny Depp for all those years. She excels in the role of Anne, somehow making a quite unlikeable character likeable. But not quite loveable. Vanessa should get some sort of gong for this performance. 

Knife+Heart is very modern while being authentically seventies. The scenes are stylised and one set piece follows another. The victims seem destined to meet the killer’s knife, unable to escape their doom. Anne has nightmares filmed like photographic negatives, and one of these depicts a fleeting act of castration. Whether this was a comment on gender and subverting gender, is hard to say.  

So, if you like your movies grisly, arty and with plenty of same-sex thrusting, check out this thriller.     

Did you know? The name of Anne Parèze's cinematographer, François Tabou (played by Bertrand Mandico) is the anagram of François About, a cinematographer of gay pornography during the period Knife+Heart is set. 

Knife+Heart is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 1 August