Movie Review - Knife+Heart (Pride Month 2019)

June is Pride Month, the month that was established to promote LGBT rights and celebrate that same community. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1969, which most agree was the start of the gay rights movement in the United States. There are various events happening in New York City, the home of Stonewall, to commemorate the anniversary. Some of those events include film screenings. The golden anniversary has made me want to spotlight queer films or television programs that have recently been released within the past year. They include Pose on FX, Alex StrangeloveTransMilitaryEvening ShadowsWe Are Thr3eSorry AngelSpecialBooksmart and Rocketman.

This film premiered last year at the 71st Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for the Queer Palm Award. Director and co-writer Yann Gonzalez based this film on the life of Anne-Marie Tensi, a French pornographer. Tensi worked mainly as a producer but she did direct some porn flicks between 1976 and 1981, which is the time period of this film. Gonzalez turns a slice of her life into an erotic slasher, not unlike the slasher flicks of the late 70's and early 80's. However, Gonzalez does what films back then couldn't do and that's put openly gay characters in the forefront as the protagonists and even antagonist. There have been films with antagonists whose subtext has been gay or been coded with homosexual stereotypes. Doing so can be offensive, but the point here is that the protagonist is an openly queer person, which is a rarity.

Vanessa Paradis stars as Anne Parèze, the producer of pornography in Paris. She's a very fiery, dirty blonde with a gap in her front teeth. She's a lesbian, but the majority of the pornography she makes features man-on-man action. In fact, her work is exclusively man-on-man porn. Yet, she's very much a lesbian. Her girlfriend is her editor, but the two have had some kind of falling out. Anne is desperate to get her back. She calls her. She begs and pleads. Nothing really works. Therefore, Anne decides to try to impress her ex-girlfriend by making a porn flick that is so provocative and better than any thing she's made before.

There's a wrinkle though. The actors in her porn flick keep getting murdered. The killer is a person who wears a black leather mask. The first murder is reminiscent of how one of the initial murders in Cruising (1980) occurred. This murder seems to be a reference by Gonzalez to that 1980 crime thriller. For those old enough to remember or have seen that 1980 film, it's the same aesthetic that Gonzalez is trying to invoke. However, there's still a bit of modern sensibilities here.

The idea of actors in a movie-within-a-movie getting murdered was explored in Scream 3 (2000). In several ways, Gonzalez is doing the same thing as that film released just after the turn of the new millennium. The meta and self-referential aspect, which became a staple of such recent films, is certainly at play here. Gonzalez even goes as far as depicting a murder on stage at a movie theater, which is the same as what happens in the opening moments of Scream 3.

I also felt echoes of another more recent film. I felt echoes of Stranger By the Lake (2014). That French film took a place or space where gay men could have sex with each other and be openly sexual without explanation or apology and made that space an area of terror where gay men could be victims of violence, even murder, but yet that's not necessarily enough to stop the men from returning to that space and further endangering themselves. There is an echo of that rashness or desperation here. Except, this film is less about an internalized pathology within the gay community. By the end, it's more about an externalized homophobia infecting a queer space and then literally turning queerness into a weapon against itself.

More references though exist to the horror flicks of the 70's and 80's. Some of the imagery might seem a bit corny and cliché. This of course wouldn't be the first film to juxtapose visuals of sex with visuals of violence. The confluence of sex and violence has always been a thing in film. It's always troubling and disturbing when in effect sex is the violence. It's not like rape when the sex is unwanted. Here, the sex is wanted, but it's then transformed into the thing that harms or kills. Given the time period, it could be a metaphor for HIV and AIDS. Instead, I think Gonzalez intended it more as a remnant of homophobia.

It's interesting to see narrative devices used in classic horror flicks like Friday the 13th (1980) or A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) used here with queer protagonists and used in the creation of a chilling queer villain. Unlike someone, such as Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger, I would say the killer's motives or targets don't make as much sense. Unfortunately, we don't get to spend enough time with the eventual victims, which are the porn stars, to feel much of any empathy or loss.

It's a shame because one of the porn stars is Thierry, played by Félix Maritaud. Maritaud is a young, French actor who recently was seen in two highly acclaimed, French films. I'm sure that this film was made before those films were both released, so Maritaud's rising star-power wouldn't have been known during the making of this film. His presence though is electric, even if you hadn't seen him in BPM (Beats Per Minute) or Sauvage / Wild. It's too bad that his character and the other victims are dispatched without the audience ever getting to know them.

What also is bothersome is a film that is about pornography that doesn't do full-frontal nudity. We see plenty of scenes where Anne and her crew are shooting pornography. We catch plenty of skin from the men involved, but at no point do we see their penises. The film is of course still erotic, but without the full-frontal nudity, it all felt a little disingenuous. Stranger By the Lake wasn't about the porn industry, but it still gave us full-frontal nudity. Boogie Nights (1997), the most iconic film about pornography gave us an image of a penis. Yes, it was a prosthetic, but it felt braver in that regard than this film does.

Un couteau dans le coeur
Not Rated but contains nudity, sex and bloody violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.

Available on DVD and VOD, including Dekkoo.


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