REVIEW: Un couteau dans le coeur [Knife+Heart] [2018]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 102 minutes
    Release Date: June 27th, 2018 (France)
    Studio: Memento Films / Altered Innocence
    Director(s): Yann Gonzalez
    Writer(s): Yann Gonzalez & Cristiano Mangione

She’s playing with real life.

Anne Parèze (Vanessa Paradis) has ruined her love. What she’s done to push Loïs (Kate Moran) away is unknown, but her desperation ensures we know she was dumped and not the dumper. Whatever happened hasn’t soured their relationship completely, however. Loïs still cares enough about Anne as a person and especially as an artist to remain editor on her cheaply produced gay porn films utilizing the same loyal troupe of actors—her eye forever lingering on Anne’s smile whenever it’s caught on-camera before François (Bertrand Mandico) stops filming. Maybe the two will rekindle their romance or perhaps they’ll continue growing apart. The best Anne can do is throw herself into the work and hope Loïs allows the electricity seen on-screen to spark a reunion wherein desire overpowers restraint.

Writer/director Yann Gonzalez and co-writer Cristiano Mangione force Anne to blindly push for reconciliation despite the violent tragedies mounting around her. So when the first of her actors’ bodies are found (Bastien Waultier‘s Karl) with stab wounds and no explanation, she barely mourns him once the idea to use this ordeal as a means of reinvigorating their creative passion enters her mind. Production on a new film commences immediately with her right-hand man Archie (Nicolas Maury) as star and collaborator alongside Thierry (Félix Maritaud), José (Noé Hernández), Misia (Thibault Servière), and newcomer Nans (Khaled Alouach)—the latter a spitting image of Fouad, an actor who left not so long ago. Anne places herself in the film too if only to guarantee Loïs sees her face during the edit.

Un couteau dans le Coeur [Knife+Heart] thus positions Anne as the sightless black grackle following Karl’s murderer as his/her leather-masked visage lurks through 1979 Paris to kill again with their dildo blade. It’s eventually revealed that this bird takes death from the dead to burn it away in the sun, protecting the innocent as though a guardian angel working to bring them back to life. Anne attempts to do the same for her relationship, ignoring the pain she has wrought to go back in time and pretend hers and Loïs’ love for one another was enough. She unwittingly places her actors in danger as a result, pushing forward as others die until her own rage and frustration let loose to prove she’s more monster than angel.

It’s this realization that allows Anne to recognize (too late) that there are bigger things to worry about than selfish desires. Her choice to mix violence and sex on-screen because of reality begins to itself bleed into reality until she can no longer separate the two. No matter how many graphic murders occur by the faceless predator running about, nothing is more vicious and unforgiveable than Anne succumbing to her own baser impulses to let the love she demands replace the love she once possessed. So much unnecessary pain and anguish unfolds because she’d rather exploit than embrace and steal instead of confide. Her devolution into madness is one that’s mirrored by the origins of the aforementioned murderer’s motivations—a truth that’s sadly discovered too late.

I say this because we have no clue what’s driving this person to kill gay men. We’re simply helpless as we watch it happen and subsequently witness Anne’s appropriation of it to her film. There’s ultimately a connection we’ll eventually understand has been alluded to from the start with inverted black and white images of fire, but we cannot figure it out until Anne does—and she only gets there at the end. It’s like hitting a narrative wall wherein Gonzalez could no longer rely solely on moody melodrama and needed to introduce meaning via a last-second montage retroactively explaining everything at once. It making sense (fiction triggering trauma to create a reality that inspires new fiction) sadly doesn’t excuse the disappointment of its eleventh hour info dump.

The final confrontation therefore feels more convenient than fulfilling even though it wonderfully builds suspense towards a cathartic release made complexly murky by Gonzalez’s bold decision to transform the antagonist into that which he/she feared most and thus the horrible act done to them in the past reborn this time with righteousness. Knife+Heart is nothing if not stunning in its 70s aesthetic with film grain, sumptuous neon glows, and synth score (courtesy of the director’s brother M83). Sometimes that style can overcome script limitations, but sometimes it also augments the fact that what’s beneath doesn’t quite hold up. Having Anne be the person to expose the murderer so long after she didn’t seem to care prevents the plot from smoothly and naturally progressing with implicit intent.

I will admit, however, that my wanting the opposite isn’t a failure on the filmmakers’ behalf. Nothing about this film is subtle, so having its journey so clearly compartmentalized by its murders and therefore aligned with a very explicit metamorphosis where Anne is concerned makes sense. Its overtness also brings to mind the era it mimics, so know that fans of black-gloved giallo leaning on atmosphere over plot should be in heaven while watching. I was conversely in the mindset that Gonzalez would allow his already uniquely eccentric sensibilities (as evidenced in You and the Night) to overshadow those tropes. Perhaps a second viewing devoid of that expectation would change my opinion from admirable work of queer horror to masterpiece. There’s definitely more than enough merit to try.

courtesy of Altered Innocence

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