The actors in Anne’s (Vannesa Paradis) third-rate porn flicks are being killed by a masked maniac on the streets of 1970’s Paris. The police don’t care, she can’t hire talent, her funds are dwindling and a nasty break up with her editor threatens to undo what little sanity Anne has left. Sensing a connection with the killer, Anne and her partner Archie (a scene stealing Nicolas Maury) decide to put their lives on screen, as her newest and most ambitious movie “Homocidal” begins to blur the lines of fantasy and reality, and of life and death, as the body count continues to grow. To share more of the plot would rob “Knife + Heart” (Un couteau dans le coeur) of its charm, a captivating, mysterious aura enrapturing a stunning film that at once pays loving homage to, and extends, the unique world of the Giallo film. Only now reaching a wider audience after it’s 2018 release, “Knife + Heart” is far more than a simple “Slasher”. With only a few uneven moments, the gallows humour and visual panache keep the film on course as a satisfying, psychological drama and an exercise in fantastically detailed world building that transcends both the art house and horror cliches lesser films would have suffered, with pitch-perfect performances throughout even as things go from glib to grim in a moment.
Directed by M83’s Yann Gonzalez, the world of “Knife + Heart” bridges the saturated , hyper-sexual 1970’s exploitation era with the detached tones of 80’s new wave. An absolutely gorgeous film, cinematographer Simon Beaufils captures the world of the burgeoning 80’s queer Paris underground as well as the quiet nature of pastoral France, each shot part of an ever growing mystery that draws us into “Knife + Heart’s” tale of tragic love undone by a knife’s edge. A memorable, and necessarily tragic villain, our killer (played with an unhinged lunacy by Jonathan Genet) stalks the city leaving new clues for Anne to decipher with each of his inventive, and phallic, kills, which thankfully shield the film from an unbearable pretentiousness that seems poised to overtake the proceedings at any moment, but never does. But in its bones, this IS a slasher movie, and for fans of the genre it offers a “fine dining” experience unlike any other, with plenty of stylized violence and smirking humour to enjoy. Itself on a razors edge between parody, homage, exploitation and vanity, “Knife + Heart” manages that delicate dance between lurid and ludicrous, being “believably unbelievable” at all times and above all else, entertaining for its entire run time. There’s gore, but it’s hardly grotesque, and there’s sex but little nudity, keeping things focused more on the mystery then the mayhem. Complementing the visuals and performances, M83’s score one ups the baroque-synth legacy of Goblin, providing a fresh, but familiar soundtrack that only further enriches the carefully built world of Gonzalez’ mystery.
To dive into “Knife + Heart” you’ll need to suspend some disbelief: this is hardly a literal film. And while It’s not perfect (a little too much time is spent on the goofy “film within a film” moments and their adolescent humour, occasionally introducing tonal speed bumps that jar us from our trance) it succeeds more often than not, with rich visual impact and memorable characters, and most importantly leaves us wanting to see more of Yann Gonzalez directorial visions to come. Currently available on Shudder, check the trailer below for a taste of “Knife + Heart”