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April 17, 2019

Knife + Heart

knife + heart poster.jpg

Une Couteau dans le Coeur
Yann Gonzalez - 2018
Altered Innocence

While Yann Gonzalez's film has been in release in the U.S. for about a month, some of my comments will reflect the screenings at the Sie Film Center in Denver.

In a perfect situation, an annotated version of b>Knife + Heart would be available to point out all the cinematic references. The opening scene takes place in a gay nightclub, and any reminders of William Friedkin's Cruising would be hard to miss. But what to make of the drummer seen in the background, wearing a full-sized eagle mask on his head, a mask similar to the one worn by Channing Pollock in Georges Franju's Judex? And the alcoholic lesbian director of gay porn movies, Anne, has a poster of Bresson's Four Nights of a Dreamer, a film about idealized, platonic, heterosexual love. The film mostly takes place in a dark and seedy Paris, in 1979. While there are those specific references to other films, as a whole this is a mash-up of slasher films of that era mixed with the making of a triple X film.

Anne is trying to reconcile with Lois, her lover as well as her editor. Her actors are the victims of violent murders. At the same time as she is trying to discover the connection to the killer, she films a virtual parody of the investigation, with scenes of gay sex. Gonzalez plays with old cinematic tropes of killers and sexual perversity. There is a shout out to William Castle when Anne decides to title her new film, Homocidal. And like the psychosexual films of the past, the explanations usually make any motivations for murder more confusing.

I do like this film much more than Gonzalez's debut, You and the Night. It's a more fully realized dreamscape of transgression. For those more squeamish about watching man on man sex, but don't mind displays of violent deaths, your secret is safe. There are plenty of shots of long knives, but none of long penises, or any full frontal nudity for that matter. Vanessa Paradis goes full diva as Anne as needed, a woman whose unfulfilled desires are barely sublimated by her need to direct men to perform sexually with each other on queue. Also in the cast are The Wild Boys writer-director Bertrand Mandico, Elina Lowensohn, and Romane Bohringer - a reminder that Savage Nights is way overdue a digital rescue.

As part of the Sie Film Center screenings, Knife + Heart will be shown with an actual gay porno film from 1980, Equation to an Unknown. Filmed in 16mm, and restored by Yann Gonzalez, who made his own homage to the original within Knife + Heart. The 1980 film credited to Dietrich de Velsa (Francis Savel), is primarily vignettes of sex mostly between the young members of a soccer team. Even without the explicit moments, Savel shows care in the use of framing and lighting. Was Caravaggio a visual influence with a cast mostly comprised of young men with dark, curly hair? There is also an indication of ambivalence, a suggestion that these young men, barely adults, may indulge in sex with each other, but may not think of themselves as gay. As such, the more narrative portions of Equation to an Unknown are close in spirit to the homosocial world of Eliza Hittman's Beach Rats.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 17, 2019 09:21 AM