Think Jason Voorhees meets Tom of Finland. Then throw in the colours of Dario Argento. And you’re not even halfway there. Knife + Heart is one of the most absurd and uncategorisable films of the year. And wilfully so. It’s one of these movies that will leave your eyes wide open and your head spinning long after you have left the film cinema.
Anna Pareze (played by a blonde Vanessa Paradis, looking a lot like Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill movies) is a third-rate softcore pornographer working in Paris at the year of 1979. She creates wonderfully wacky blue movies for gay men. Her films feature no frontal nudity and penetration. She’s also, in a very strange way, a motherly figure to her young and beautiful actors. Her formidable personality ensures that they remain loyal and devout to the trade. Until one day a serial killers begins to murder her “children” in the most gruesome ways.
The first killing subverts the notion of penetration. The masked murderer inserts a knife in the anus of his victim shortly after tying him up to bed. This is the ultimate bondage-gone-wrong session. Or maybe bondage-gone-too-real. After all, who hasn’t fantasised about being penetrated by a blade instead of a penis? This is just the first of the many sexually twisted treats in the movie.
Knife + Heart repeatedly plays with meta-language. There are many films within the film. Anna confronts the killer by making a porn movie entitled Homo-Cidal about the murder spree. The final sequence of the Knife + Heart takes place inside a film theatre, while yet another film is being played. Anna is natural born provocateuse. She wants to be more famous and notorious than the masked man, without shedding any blood. And she wants to prove that she’s in charge of her team, and she will now allow the mysterious man to take her boys and her art away from her.
Parallel to all of this, Anna has a tragic lesbian affair with her editor Lois McKenna (Kate Moran). Bar this dysfunctional romance, Knife + Heart is an all-male all-gay affair. At the end of the film, the male and female relations are drawn together is a rather visceral way, which alludes to the film title.
The plot of Knife+Heart is unabashedly preposterous, particularly its incendiary yet inscrutable ending. Don’t try to make much sense of it. There are a lot of loose ends. This does not, however, diminish the artistic merit of the film, which relies mostly in its visual excellence and soundtrack. Vibrant colours populate the screens throughout, blended with black and white and also film negative images. The kitsch look is a tribute to giallo, sexploitation movies and also LGBT culture. The soundtrack – which is available for purchase, the first single Karl having already been launched – is creepy and tacky. Think Serge Gainsbourg’s Je t’Aime Moi Non Plus meets Bernard Hermann. Synthetisers are exquisitely mixed with a harp and the violin. The music is signed by Anthony Gonzalez, frontman of the band M83. He also happens to be the brother of the filmmaker.
Knife + Heart premiered in Cannes in 2018. It showed at BFI Flare in March 2019. Out in cinemas on Friday, July 5th.