Knife + Heart


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Knife + Heart
"This isn't the kind of film that's destined to win mainstream awards but Paradis' performance deserves to be remembered." | Photo: Ella Herme

In 1987, Vanessa Paradis was France's sweetheart, the 14-year-old singing sensation who achieved worldwide stardom. In 2011 she came out of nowhere to win acting awards for Café De Flore, confounding expectations with her portrayal of a struggling mother, yet nothing could have prepared viewers for her latest incarnation. As a down on her luck, alcoholic porn producer trying to get back together with her disillusioned girlfriend in Seventies Paris, she brings a whole new deck of cards to the table. This isn't the kind of film that's destined to win mainstream awards but Paradis' performance deserves to be remembered.

With her poorly maintained blonde bob, kinky boots, raincoat, sunglasses, permanent cigarette and sliding make-up, Paradis strides through the film like the heroine of a Marc Almond song, chewing up scenery as her character, Anne, chews up practically everyone she meets. Anne has a talent for procuring the services of young men whose highly exploitable prettiness is matched only by their lack of awareness of what they really should be asking for in pay. But Anne has a problem. Somebody out there is killing her stars. Armed with only her creative skills, her rough-edged charm and a simmering, barely-suppressed rage, she sets out to track down the leather-masked murderer herself. Art and life imitate one another as it becomes apparent that Anne's work has sparked an obsession - and this tigress cannot tolerate another predator on her territory.

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A magnificently queer take on giallo, Yann Gonzalez's spirited follow-up to You And The Night marks him out as one of the most inventive storytellers in modern French cinema. Anne is undoubtedly one of the genre's most unusual sleuths and Gonzalez has great fun inverting the gender roles usually found in such films, whilst creating an immersive visual experience that won't disappoint genre fans. That the plot isn't always coherent might itself be regarded as in keeping with tradition. It's a narrative in which theme and emotion are as important as the establishment of fact. Anne's emotions in relation to her personal life are outsize, driving her to do awful things; yet her workers criticise her for seemingly feeling too little when it comes to the murders, especially when she decides to use the police investigation as inspiration for a new film.

The high camp tone of much of this film - embodied by Anne's outré leading man, Archibald (Nicolas Maury) - contrasts nicely with the dirt and grime of a workplace that only intermittently achieves glamour, whilst the fantastical nature of the killings connects with what is ultimately an all too commonplace story of rejection and exile. Gonzalez captures the Seventies perfectly in costumes and sets and also in his shooting style and choice of filters, creating the sense of a period unique in its combination of viciousness and innocence whose particular romance is now lost. Though the economic pressures of the era are visible everywhere, there's also a sense of vast possibility. The world is on the brink of some colossal change and Anne and her stars are pioneers but also seem likely to be victims, depending as they do on the very taboos they break.

Needless to say, there's a lot of naked flesh on display here, though very little that's really explicit. Most of the violence occurs offscreen, inferred rather than observed directly. There's ample comedy but the complete film has a bittersweet quality which is, again, evocative of a certain moment in queer history. Knife + Heart is very definitely not for everyone but is destined to find fans who will treasure it.

Knife + Heart opens in UK cinemas and on Mubi on 5 July.

Reviewed on: 07 May 2019
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Paris, Summer 1979. Anne produces third-rate gay porn. After her editor and lover Lois leaves her, she tries to win her back by shooting her most ambitious film yet with her trusted, flaming sidekick Archibald... then one of her actors is brutally murdered.
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Director: Yann Gonzalez

Writer: Yann Gonzalez, Cristiano Mangione

Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kate Moran, Nicolas Maury, Noé Hernández, Pierre Emö, Pierre Pirol, Thibault Servière, Naëlle Dariya, Salim Torki, Jeremy Flaum, Vanessa Paradis, Kate Moran, Nicolas Maury, Noé Hernández, Pierre Emö, Félix Maritaud

Year: 2018

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: France, Mexico

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