Set in the world of 1970s queer erotica, Knife + Heart takes the term ‘blue movie’ literally. Sex is no stranger to its frames — filmed within the feature’s movies within the overall movie, and enjoyed between its characters when the on-screen camera isn’t rolling — but Yann Gonzalez also paints with the colour, giving much of his sophomore directorial outing a cobalt hue. It graces the backdrop used during filmmaker Anne Parèze’s (Vanessa Paradis) low-budget productions. It’s the shade of shirts, dresses, overalls, police uniforms and more. It’s also the inky colour of peering through peepholes, creeping down hallways, graveside visits in thick of night, arguing in a dark and rainy parking lot, and tearing up the dance floor.
Knife + Heart’s strong use of blue doesn’t just offer viewers a clear visual reminder, plunging the audience into the film’s seductive world on a near-subconscious level. It takes the movie into the blue, as if vanishing into a murky, uncertain realm. Like the giallo films it overtly nods to, it creates a dreamlike air that’s both sensual and cloaked in intrigue. And while Gonzalez knows how to splash more than one colour across the screen, also working heavily with red — think love, lust, passion, blood, death, the titular beating heart — the film’s sapphire, cerulean and indigo tones couldn’t better encapsulate Knife + Heart’s core. This is an enchanting and ethereal yet shifting and twisting feature, and it doesn’t miss a chance to emphasise its mood through its form.
Gonzalez’s decisions as a stylist are both bold and finessed, slapping viewers in the face with his aesthetic choices while normalising them within the world of the movie. In other words, the French filmmaker has found the ideal mix of story and style, as his giallo influences did as well. Gonzalez's intoxicating and thrilling murder mystery doesn’t just tell a darkly alluring tale, but conveys its feelings and texture in every frame.
The story of the no-nonsense Parèze’s latest production, Knife + Heart is also the story of the deaths blighting the shoot, of Parèze’s undying infatuation for her editor Loïs (Kate Moran), and of a thorny secret that may be the reason for the spate of killings that’s following its protagonist around. As her stars start dropping like brutally slain flies, Parèze turns the scenario into her ambitious new feature, while trying to ascertain why someone is slashing their way through her life — and trying to win back Loïs, too, whose absence from her bed cuts as deep as the killer’s pop-out dildo knife.
There’s nothing subtle about this story. Again, a dildo switchblade is one of the murderer’s preferred weapons, and it’s used to gory, attention-grabbing effect. And so Gonzalez makes like his on-screen counterpart. There’s nothing subtle about Parèze’s re-staging of the tragedies around her, albeit with added sex, and there’s nothing nuanced about Gonzalez’s determination to make the experience of watching Knife + Heart akin to stepping into an extravagant nightmare.
Slasher flicks have been finding inspiration in giallo for decades, however, but Gonzalez takes his nods a step further. They don’t simply cloak his narrative in the required mood, but are baked into the story — like Berberian Sound Studio if it were set on a queer porn set. Thanks to Parèze and her quest to recreate her friends’ and employees' deaths, Knife + Heart has a reason to luxuriate in the intense, sensational extremes so gleefully constructed by cinematographer Simon Beaufils (a veteran of Gonzalez’s 2013 feature debut You and the Night). What would a '70s porn about real-life murders be if not trashy and kitsch, after all? And thanks to the presence of Loïs, the object of Parèze’s affection, the film has a reason to draw such concerted attention not only to how its frames look, but how they fit together.
There’s no more tactile field of filmmaking than editing. No cinematic craft that literally involves caressing, shaping and reforming the very substance that captures the medium’s imagery and helps project it to the watching masses (at least before filmmaking became digitised). Initially involving physically working with celluloid — cutting, trimming, tearing apart, sticking together — it’s such an apt point of focus for a film that’s also as tactile as it can be. Knife + Heart always feels as if the viewing audience could reach out, touch it and hold its grainy contents in their hands. Accordingly, Parèze’s love of Loïs mirrors Gonzalez’s love of editing in general, and his own regular splicing talent, Raphaël Lefèvre, turns in work worthy of such admiration.
The movie’s opening moments couldn’t better demonstrate this synergy — how a command of craft is as crucial to Knife + Heart as its narrative, and how the film makes this connection plain. Parèze gazes upon Loïs as the latter cuts their most recent film on a flatbed editor, the mechanics of the job thrust into sharp, immediate view. Meanwhile, Gonzalez has Lefèvre intertwine her 16mm chops with glimpses of a countryside shoot, a night on the town and the feature’s first (and perhaps most memorable) murder. One form of splicing is inseparable from the other, as further tied together by M83’s pulsating soundtrack. From here, two kinds of knifes will give Knife + Heart its beat: the killer’s, and those wielded by both its on- and off-screen editors.
Glamorously garish visuals, an otherworldly mood, editing that penetrates the film’s very essence: in every aesthetic choice, Knife + Heart doesn’t merely blend the feature’s story with its style; it fuses them together. The result is immersive and impressionistic, like soaking viewers in the movie’s narrative and splattering their heady experiences onto the screen. Understandably, it’s also unforgettable.