Gay Essential Review: Knife + Heart (Un Couteau Dans Le Coeur) at BFI Flare

Part Thriller, part Period Film, part Romance (…sort of), Yann Gonzalez’ Knife + Heart (Un Couteau Dans Le Coeur) has a little something for everyone. Set in the late 1970’s French gay porn industry, this story gets right to the point in the opening scenes. Splicing film footage of a gay fling in the woods with glimpses of a late-night club scene, audiences are immediately introduced to the film’s troubling antagonist – a mysterious figure in a leather bondage mask, wielding a grisly switchblade dildo.

Knife + Heart

French director Yann Gonzalez transports us on a kitschy and intriguing ride. Knife + Heart (Un Couteau Dans Le Coeur) throws viewers head first into Paris 1979, complete with eclectic fashion, technicolor, and that unmistakably soft, creamy focus in every shot. Leading lady Vanessa Paradis plays the bold and plucky gay porn director, Anne. A trailblazer in her own right, Anne is a lesbian filmmaker who recruits “real talent” by skulking around construction sites and bars, favoring the hodgepodge cast of regular everyday men over the prima donnas circulating in the porn industry.

Anne’s former lover, Lois (played by Kate Moran), is also Anne’s trusted editor. Spending hours splicing 16mm film in a hazy cigarette smoke filled room, Lois is doing her best to remain professional and keep her boozing and somewhat erratic ex-lover at an arm’s length in the aftermath of their breakup. However, as the plight of this failed romance is coming to light, attention is abruptly turned to the more pressing tragedy at hand. Anne’s motley cast of leading men are being slaughtered by a masked villain, which makes Anne a person of interest in the case by association.

Seizing a creative opportunity, Anne aims to do something profound and hopes it’ll get her girl back in the process. Moving on from the sleepy gay play in the park she’s known for filming, Anne begins work on an ambitious film inspired by the tragic events unfolding around her troupe of actors and film production staff. “Homicidal” is just the genre-breaking project she needs, a gay porn world built around the ongoing investigation plaguing her hapless entourage. Anne casts her flamboyant assistant director, Archibald (played by Nicolas Maury), in the lead role – a cross dressing, pearl-clutching damsel in distress who is taken aback by the very hands-on approach of this fictitious police investigation.

The killer, however, remains unquenched. Anne’s usual cast of actors continue to be slowly killed off, with the bodies left in compromising positions and locations. As the police prove useless, if not uninterested, in the case, Anne decides to take matters into her own hands. Staging a casting call for her latest film, she attempts to lure the masked murderer onto the filmset herself, a move that may carry more risk than reward.

Gonzalez offers a stark contrast in Knife + Heart (Un Couteau Dans Le Coeur), delivering graphic murder scenes juxtaposed with playful softcore porn, and a story driven by a strong female lead. While Anne and Lois’ relationship seems like a major thread in the film, it is Anne’s determined and unpredictable nature that takes a front row seat in this story, even if it means risking her most valuable assets.

4 Stars

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dave Croyle

Dave Croyle

Dave Croyle is an advertising and marketing professional with a knack for building ideas and getting things done. Throughout his career he has written and produced creative work for a variety of brands, big and small. As a history buff and art geek, Dave is passionate about exploring cultures and seeing the world. Dave resides in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife and two dogs.