After an arresting, violent opener, patching mucky park sex with a neon shaft swept night club murder, director Yann Gonzalez provides Almodovar/Carry On-like foppish japing on the set of a gay porn film, setting a shrilly genre blend from the off. The style switching doesn’t stop there as Knife + Heart twirls into a bucolic drama about lost love, addiction and fissured identities, which is intriguing but often awkward, and maybe that’s the point?
As if a sex comedy/Noir sci-fi porn/giallo isn’t enough for this cine-soufflé. Gonzalez’s second feature (after 2013s You and the Night) is set in 70s Parisian gay porn industry and sees adult film producer Anne Pareze (Vanessa Paradis) forced to recast a production when one of the actors is murdered. After hiring a lookalike, another porn star is slaughtered. This inspires Anne to produce a film based on the deaths while the maniac is on the loose and their kill spree still in progress.
Despite lodging horror tropes, Knife + Heart doesn’t try to frighten. Giallo is recalled due to predominate visuals/ aesthetics, mending Argento, Noe, Strickland, La Bruce and Winding Refn. Shots of Anne in a long black coat with short blonde hair and sunglasses recall 70s/80s femme fatale heroines that graced De Palma’s Hitchcock riffs and early Paul Verhoeven (particularly The Fourth Man), while the entrenched guise of the killer, donned in a black latex mask with a phallic death gizmo, could kick-start a franchise alone.
Gonzalez’s vibrant visuals, shocking sex/violence and face-aching comedy are Knife + Heart’s high-points, but there is also poignant drama and character complexity which seem part of another film entirely. These components should compliment the narrative, but are woven in a way that just slow the story down. Anne’s voracious love for recent ex/ film editor Lois (Kate Moran) is fiercely conveyed via a staggering performance by Paradis. But, while this subplot works in small doses/running parallel with the central serial killer strand, it slumps when taking precedence.
The story also stalls due to a massive sag in the centre which coincides with another style change. This leaves viewers locked in a lull as characters pontificate, roam and investigate and the plot inadvertently pauses. Things pick up for the finale, but the set-up’s striking bite shows Knife + Heart at its strongest. Despite failing to fully recover from the midway respite, Gonzalez’s second feature still contains some unshakable images, scenes and characters that remain amazing in the brain, like infected specs from a forgotten dream or a drug addled night on the tiles.
The 62nd BFI London Film Festival runs from 10 – 21 October. Tickets available now from www.bfi.org.uk/lff