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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Knife+Heart ***

Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Nicolas Maury, Kate Moran, Félix Maritaud, Khaled Alouach

Director: Yann Gonzalez

Country: France

Like most Queer Palm nominees, we’ve been waiting a long time for Knife+Heart’s UK release. Starring French pop legend turned screen icon Vanessa Paradis (The Girl On The Bridge, Noce Blanche), gay TV actor Nicolas Maury (Call My Agent) and rising star Félix Maritaud (Sauvage, 120 BPM), this slasher thriller is a neon-drenched B movie set in the world of blue cinema and looks like a cross between Boogie Nights and Atomic Blonde. But is it all style over substance? Well, a little.

Anne (Paradis) is a lesbian producer of gay porn in Paris, 1975. In love with her editor (Moran), their relationship has turned stale and in an attempt to impress her, she starts being more creative in the scenarios she shoots in the hope that this newfound creativity will stimulate her lover in the editing suite. But when her actors begin to be murdered one by one, their priorities shift elsewhere as a leather-masked psychopath picks them off one by one.

As the killer watches his victims from the shadows of darkened fetish clubs, looking like a sexualised Leatherface and killing his victims with a dildo switchblade (as in, the retractable blade is inside the dildo – clever, huh?), there are nods aplenty to Cruising and Scorpio Rising. With the victims all willowy actors in their pants, there is a delicacy about them that makes for perfect scream queens held at the mercy of the hyper-masculinised murderer in their midst. Killer and victim live at opposite ends of the same world, but both inhabit a trashy fetishised subculture that feels like a time capsule of the days of the gay underworld.

The porn Anne makes is gloriously 70s as well, where the concept is far more important than the sex itself. She searches for inspiration everywhere, leading to her creation of ‘Homo-cidal’, the porn iteration of what is happening to her colleagues in real life. This film within a film is deliberately meta, but it makes for some amusing comedy seeing this fictionalised version of events (Anne is obviously played in drag) unfold alongside reality. Their version is campy, while the truth is considerably darker, but as the two bleed into each other – there are obviously murders on set too – the director adeptly finds the balance between trash and vice, just in the way porn usually does.

The film’s biggest strength is the way it looks. The cinematography is striking yet simplistic; there is here’s something indelibly seductive about lone figures walking oblivious through a red-lit room, unaware that they’re being watched. Even the scenes in daylight have the contrast turned up to eleven, using colour to contrast with the blackened figure in the shadows. The murder sequences are tense and chilling, ticking every box in terms of style, but as the film attempts to unravel its needlessly dense plot it starts straying into David Lynch territory (don’t get me started about that bloody blind crow) and blends moments of the supernatural into a film that really doesn’t need it. Whatsoever. And playing the same extended flashback sequence in photo-negative gets tiresome after the seventh time.

This is definitely a cult film in the making. Its campy aesthetic and left-field narrative finds that sleazy playfulness that other cult queer movies yearn for, but in terms of whether it works as a slasher thriller: it doesn’t. If this was just a mood board, then it would get two big thumbs up, but as an actual movie with a plot, we need a little bit more. Paradis’ acid blonde hair looks great against the neon, but a weave does not a film make.


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