A Giallo in Paris
by Marcus Ogden
Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart is a film I recently fell in love with. I first saw it at CUFF and was only recently able to watch it again, where I enjoyed it even more. The film takes place in Paris, 1979. Anne (Vanessa Paradis), a gay porn producer and alcoholic, wants to re-spark a flame between herself and her editor/ex-lover Lois (Kate Moran). Anne decides to base an ambitious new film around the recent murder of one of her actors. The masked killer behind the murder begins killing more members of Anne’s production one-by-one and the police have no interest in pursuing the case, so Anne takes it upon herself to find and stop him.
Knife + Heart is an homage to the Italian giallo, a genre of films from the 60’s-70’s I would describe as the lurid transition between noire murder mysteries and 80’s slashers. Giallo films are particularly obsessed with themes of female sexuality, violence, sanity, and the supernatural. The film has legs of its own to stand on and avoids the traps of shallow imitation or sledgehammer subtlety that a lot of other ‘homages’ typically fall into. The generic characteristics of giallo are incorporated in inventive new ways that give them a touch of genuine originality. However, for those in the know, there are subtle winks to the films of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and other notable giallo directors.
Knife + Heart stays true to the style of giallo in that it is a continuously stimulating sensory experience. The film has excellent cinematography and construction as it is rich with popping colours and contains many creative and interesting uses of lighting, editing, framing, and staging. The costumes all look great and really sell the 70’s atmosphere while still being clearly designed with purpose and character in mind. The killer in particular has one of the few great and memorable villain designs of this new era of horror. The soundtrack, composed by the band M83, is a great mix of synthwave jams and electro-fantasy music. Each track perfectly sets the tone of the scene and ties together in a film that takes on a wide range of tones. This blend of a great soundtrack and an exciting image that Knife + Heart achieves is a tribute to what made many Italian giallo films fun to watch, but even without that in mind both the sound and the visuals still hold up in a contemporary context as prime examples of quality.
The performances in Knife + Heart are worth taking note of. Vanessa Paradis captures the tragic nature of her character Anne but maintains an endearing quality throughout. Even when Anne does wrong, the viewer wants to see her redeem herself. The rest of the cast all have well defined characters that come together neatly and bring their own form of charm to the film. The plot itself is really fun to follow as it takes unexpected turns, shows some creative kills, and the mystery unravels. The film seamlessly shifts tonally from dark, to dreamlike, and even to comedic at points.
Knife + Heart is a film I wholeheartedly recommend, especially for giallo fans and LGBTQ+ film fans. I can see there are lots of other interesting points, other than its resemblance to giallo films, for other viewers to pick on when approaching the film from different stances such as its treatment of homosexuality or its approach to ideas of loss, obsession, and moving on. Sadly, the film has just finished its run on the streaming service MUBI. It’s definitely worth keeping in mind for when it may pop up for streaming or physical viewing in Canada again.