A thriller set in the 1970s world of Parisian porn tries to intellectualise its seedy story, but misses the mark.
The very first killing in Yann Gonzalez’s porn world thriller Knife + Heart, showing in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, is both gruesome and ludicrous – and is characteristic of the entire enterprise. After a brutal stabbing (not in the literal but perhaps in the metaphorical heart), a black crow suddenly comes landing next to the corpse of the angelic young man. As it returns with each new victim, the white-eyed, stuffed-looking bird gets more ridiculous and highlights just how predictable the narrative is, instead of elevating it to engrossing levels of dreamlike abstraction.
Sporting a leather coat and bleached hair, Vanessa Paradis plays Anne, an erotic film producer with a hungry heart in Paris, 1979. Her deep longing – verging on obsession – for her editor Lois (Kate Moran) is supposed to compliment the explicitness of her nine to five, for Gonzalez tries to find poetry in the daily grind of difficult erections, actors’ camaraderie and easy money. An artist of the senses, Anne also talks in surreal metaphors. Yet by trying so hard to suggest fantasy from raw sexuality, Gonzalez fails to go deep.
All the beautiful colours and bizarre turns of phrase feel removed from the characters, tacked on them forcefully to laughable effect. It is difficult to care for Anne or even for her amusing friend and colleague Archibald, played with flair by Nicolas Maury; they don’t dream up their lives so much as go through them like extras on a film set, or interchangeable physical performers in a porn film.
Anne is also disturbed by evocative, violent dreams (of disappointing production value) that seem connected to the repeated murders of her actors. Gonzalez’s try-hard approach proves exhausting as he struggles to reconcile his predilection for dramatic and fantasist compositions with the serial killer tropes. Going for the essentials of the genre, his plot falls into cliches that stumble on a fine line between defending and demonising homosexuality. The murder mystery is solved in confusion and, although aiming for tragedy, lands instead on a discomforting sense of relief from those characters’ pain.
Published 18 May 2018
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