French writer/director Yann Gonzalez celebrates all things Argento in his LFF debut Knife + Heart [Un couteau dans le cœur]. Sitting within the Cult strand of the festival’s programme, the film sets out to be as singular as that branch title might suggest, declaring: “If you only see one arthouse slasher movie set in the gay porn industry this year, you had better make sure it’s this one.” Being the only film of its type at LFF, simply means there’s nothing like it, sadly doesn’t mean it’s any good.
Taking place in 1979 Paris, Gonzalez envisions the world through Anne (Vanessa Paradis), a flawed producer of gay porn still reeling from her break-up with the company’s film editor Loïs (Kate Moran). When a number of her cast members are found dead, their killer remains at large, Anne and her remaining team cope with the news in varying ways yet come together in making Homocidal, an erotic film based on the killings. It’s a unique premise that had the potential to blend the sensational with the serious but totally misses the mark. Knife + Heart neither allows itself to be silly enough to be considered a comedy nor seriously enough to be a thriller.
The recurring sequences taken from the films Anne has made with the company have an authenticity to them and are amply melodramatic to be sniggered at as opposed to simply undercut a potentially awkward moment - it's doubtful an audience will be affronted by the scenes. Admittedly, the film is visually wonderful as it lives and breathes its late 70s vibe. The sleazy tone is scored across its designs in the dingy yet alluring gay clubs, the leather and flare clad bystanders, even the murder sequences have an inexplicable allure to them. All of which plays out against its brilliant and nostalgia filled score, including the electro music of M83, the French band headed by Gonzalez’s brother Anthony.
This abundance of style leaves the rest of the film lacking, no more so than in its characters. Not one is given any depth or provided with enough time to explore their motivations or complexities. Paradis’ Anne is described as a ruthless gay porn producer and she does bring an audacious flair to proceedings, working hard to capture the perfect shot while keeping a lid on the volatile emotional heartbreak she’s experiencing behind closed doors. However, only rarely does her character feel fleshed out or genuine. It’s about an hour in when she finally takes note of the serial killer targeting her cast, taking the film into the slasher-mystery territory that was promised - even that follows a sequence that damns her character beyond repair.
It is evident that the plays on genre tropes and significance of aesthetic takes precedence over all other aspects of the film. Pacing issues leave the film muddled, the thriller aspect arrives too soon and the comedy too late, not to mention the bizarre low-fantasy element that is dropped right in the middle and left completely untouched. The supporting cast are all decent, although somewhat unentertaining. It’s true that this film is a singular blend of genres, and if you want something different, the Cult strand is the one to go for but there will be other films far more satisfying than this one.
Tickets for Knife + Heart are still available to buy on the BFI website