As Lois McKenna (Kate Moran) edits a gay porno featuring the young Karl (Bastien Waultier), we observe the actor being picked up at a gay S&M club. A man wearing a black mask ties him face down on a bed and raises a black dildo. It is too late for Karl when he sees the knife that springs from its tip. It is Paris, 1979 and 5 a.m. when Lois receives a call from her boss, Anne Parèze (Vanessa Paradis), distraught over a nightmare drenched in blood in “Knife+Heart.”
Cowriter (with Cristiano Mangione)/director Yann Gonzalez crafts a convincing throwback, a film referencing the works of Brian DePalma (“Body Double”), William Friedkin (“Cruising”) and, most notably, Dario Argento (“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”) and the giallo genre. Brilliantly photographed in primary colors of blue, red and yellow (accented with plenty black leather) by cinematographer Simon Beaufils, Gonzalez reflects his story back upon itself via films-within-his-film, black and white photo negative nightmares, dance floors, dark rooms and sex shows. An electronic score by M83 completes the period genre effect.
Although reeling from the rejection of Lois, her lover of ten years, Anne travels to view laborers to recruit for her latest film, “Anal Fury.” She’s enthralled by Nans (Khaled Alouach), remarking that he is the spitting image of Fouad (also Alouach), the actor we see appear in an early film of Karl’s that turns out to be the linchpin of everything that is happening. That night, Anne goes to The Future, an industrial dance club, to spy on Lois. Outside one of her actors, Thierry (Félix Maritaud), shoots up in an abandoned car. A black bird with white eyes lands, signaling the approach of a man in a black mask...
As Anne’s bloody and fiery nightmares reflect a connection to the killer’s past, she incorporates his present into her films, renaming it “Homocidal” and taking on the role of the killer herself. Anne holds a wrap party as a picnic in a sunlit field, surprised to see Lois arrive. A black bird lands on Lois’s shoulder. The wind suddenly picks up, scattering all but Misia (Thibault Servière), a drag queen of Anne’s recent employ. A man emerges from the trees...
This outdoor setting sets the segue for Anne’s trip to Chaladre, the forest where a rare grackle is rumored to absorb death, then release it into the sun, its proximity to the blazing orb blinding it. Gonzalez enters the realm of fairy tales, Anne led to a remote inn by its owner, Monsieur Vannier (Jacques Nolot), whose daughter, Cathy (Romane Bohringer), forms a quick attachment to Anne. In the forest, Anne comes across a cemetery where a woman (Elina Löwensohn) mourns at the headstone of her son. Cathy later recounts his tale, one which has flickered in Anne’s nightmares.
If only Gonzalez’s story was on a par with his gleefully stylish film, one whose production is far superior to the good natured grindhouse movies Anne produces. The serial killer who lurks around Anne’s troupe like some kind of Phantom of the Opera is far more notable for his costume than his history. Far more successful is how Gonzalez presents his narrative like a prism. If Anne’s mourning of her lost love parallels the killer’s, she will witness a show in a lesbian club where a middle-aged woman is ripped to shreds by the talons of her ursine lover. In turn, Anne utilizes her own experience in her art, an interrogation by Inspector Morcini (Yann Collette) transformed into homoerotic hijinx. The film’s climax occurs within a movie theater, Gonzalez utilizing both sides of its screen.
“Knife+Heart” can certainly be labeled style over substance, but when that style is so well executed, it is easy to overlook a limp finale. Genre buffs should embrace this one.
Robin did not see this film.
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