Set within the seedy porno sets and neon-soaked discotheques of Paris in the late 1970s, Yann Gonzalez crafts a stylish, nasty giallo with Knife+Heart, which, despite overstaying its welcome, is a fascinating mystery-thriller that oozes with gorgeous visuals and a heaping pile of camp.
Vanessa Paradis stars as Anne, a producer of low-budget gay pornography who, after the brutal slaying of one of her actors and her breakup with her girlfriend (and editor), Lois, decides to use these events as inspiration for her next production.
In an early scene, we witness the first victim’s murder at the hands of a black-gloved, PVC-masked man who brandishes a switchblade that extends from a dildo. After the killing, a blind grackle swoops in to mark the man’s departure from his mortal coil.
The police are in no hurry to investigate, given the lifestyle of the victim, and the killer is free to perpetrate additional killings, all of whom are men in Anne’s employ. At first, she uses this series of tragedies to inspire her magnum opus, Homicidal, but in true giallo fashion, Anne eventually becomes an amateur sleuth, putting the pieces together as to the identity of this masked killer targeting gay men.
Gonzalez perfectly captures both the aesthetic and tonal structure of the classic ’70s Italian giallo, embracing the glamorized sex and violence, while providing a counterbalance to some of the more homophobic trappings held within certain entries of the genre.
Themes of broken hearts and the primal, vicious power of love remain prevalent throughout the film as Anne’s shattered relationship with Lois and the killer’s motive take form. It’s all incredibly intriguing, especially when the ultimate truths about the killer are revealed. The narrative drags in the second act but finds its legs again as it builds to the climax, but even when there’s not much going on with the plot, we’re still left with gorgeous, gritty, visuals at which to gawk.
M83 provides a synth-heavy score that aids in Knife+Heart’s pulsing club-scene vibe, underscoring the manic bouts of excess that the film’s characters frequently throw onto the screen. Paradis excels at this, portraying a complex, tortured lead who doesn’t know how to process her unrequited love or the losses of those around her.
Too often modern interpretations of gialli attempt to simply mimic the visual aesthetics and overarching tropes of the genre without adding anything new or substantive. Knife+Heart, while not quite fully committed to the absurdly over-stylized genre piece it could be, accurately captures the broad strokes of a giallo while also tapping into the more subtle, darkly humanistic themes.