Un couteau dans le coeur
starring Vanessa Paradis, Nicolas Maury, Kate Moran, Jonathan Genet
screenplay by Yann Gonzalez, Cristiano Mangione
directed by Yann Gonzalez
by Walter Chaw Yann Gonzalez's Knife + Heart is a smart film by a smart filmmaker. It's a movie-lover's fugue, a tribute to the heyday of gay porn and the grindhouse theatres that showed it, a salute to editors, a shrine to multi-cultural myths about birds. It's a deep well with obvious pleasures, a film with a recognizable structure complete with solution that still manages to avoid the standard exposition and perfunctory resolution. The spiritual brother to Brian De Palma's Body Double (exploitative and sleazy and also commentary on exploitation and sleaze), it's a movie about looking that has as its central image a blind grackle--an extinct variety of the common pest that used to bring folks back from the dead by burning off the ever-after as it flew too close to the sun. Its central couple is gay-porn director Anne (Vanessa Paradis) and her editor and former lover Lois (Kate Moran), who churn out the sort of softcore masterpieces of art-film erotica favoured once upon a time by your Kenneth Angers, your Paul Morrisseys and Radley Metzgers. All of her work is autobiographical in some way. There's no line separating Anne's reality, nor her dreamlife, from the mindscreen of her movies.
Knife + Heart is high camp on the surface and film school underneath. Gonzalez has a strong sense of what makes those old no-budget pornos fun and an equally strong sense of how and where those films intersect with the likes of Godard and Hitchcock. As a genre exercise, it's unerring and true. Its ending feels like Tom DiCillo's Living in Oblivion, with the true voice of the struggling auteur finding itself in a meaningful project that will likely attract only a handful of supporters, much less admirers. There's a scene in a porn theatre where, among the lonely masturbators, a middle-aged guy in tweed (Christophe Bier) tells Anne he's seen all her stuff and that this is her masterpiece. Knife + Heart even has time to give a nod to the positive relationship critics can have, and traditionally have had, to art--and how critics are in fact bigger champions of the things they like than any casual moviegoer could ever claim to be. All of these moments serve as waypoints along the journey of a whodunit that ultimately exposes the cost of intolerance on society, as well as the visceral impact of art on the internal lives of the audience. It's most assuredly about something. At the end of it, when the murderer is unmasked, it's not by the detective missing an eyelid (Yann Collette), but by the artist telling her story in the medium of her choice. Knife + Heart is about honouring a voice, torpedoes be damned. It's great.