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by Jay Seaver

"Queer and killer."
4 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 21: "Knife+Heart" is a slasher set against a backdrop of gay porn in 1979 Paris and it's just as lurid as it sounds, which means it is not for everyone. It is top-notch as those go, clever and sometimes surprisingly emotional considering that it's also often well over the border of camp. There isn't much like it, and most of what is doesn't pull it off nearly so well.

Anne Parèze (Vanessa Paradis) is kind of a mess; she produces cheap adult films with all-male casts and has screwed up enough of that girlfriend Loïs McKenna (Kate Moran) has left her, although she's still editing those movies. Director Archibald Langevin (Nicolas Maury) is not the only one to notice that new actor Nans (Khaled Alouach) looks an awful lot like another guy, Fouad, who did few films with them a few years ago. He might not be in the business very long, or on this Earth - there's a serial killer on the loose, and the police are not exactly prioritizing the case. That means Anne winds up playing amateur sleuth on top of everything else, which includes making her new movie transparently based upon the case.

Vanessa Paradis seems like a bit of an odd choice for the central character of this movie, even once you consider that many of the characters are inspired by real people; she's a glamorous former model and singer whose character is in a grimy, low-rent business. She imbues Anne with a sense of ease and experience but not necessarily responsibility, someone who has found her niche in part because it lets her occasionally be immature without much penalty in the right proportion with any den-mother instincts she might feel. It's a natural fit with Kate Moran's Loïs, who never comes off as quite so at ease with this world - sure, nobody has anything against her being gay, and Anne is smart and exciting, but even before the murders, the excesses that came from being around Anne were not exactly what she wanted out of life. She does the editing because someone has to and she's the only one with the temperment for this methodical part of filmmaking.

Director Yann Gonzalez and his collaborators, on the other hand, never seem to treat any art of their art as boring or obligatory. They embrace the simple aesthetic of the time and genre, but file away some of the excesses - scenes aren't quite over-lit, but the look is still a bit less natural than many modern films, and the relatively static camera is placed in a way that is determined more for focus than just convenience. There's loving recreation of the garish fashions and hairstyles, enough to mark the group as defiant outsiders and stamp them with personality, and generally show a knack for using period details and techniques as a way to communicate just a little more to the audience.

There's honest horror to the violence that mostly avoids snickers while still giving the viewer the thrill of danger, and for all that the film offers plentiful opportunity to have a laugh at what it's recreating, it shows genuine fondness for its characters. Anne, especially, is allowed little moments of pride in her work, and the last act gets interesting, if sometimes frustrating: It takes a detour from the rest of the movie by playing in the country instead of the city, spinning its wheels and giving the audience the feeling that things have come a bit out of nowhere - Kinfe+Heart was never a real fair-play mystery but it never felt random - but also giving a bit of a sense of tapping into bigger things. You can see how the pieces are being put together, and it feels like it's just enough to give you the picture.

Not that the higher-minded material is ever that close to the front; Anne's and Loïs's damaged romance may be prominent, but the film is mostly about people getting stabbed. It's a good one, if you like that, and a gay porn-adjacent giallo is a fun change of pace from the typical slasher.

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originally posted: 06/07/19 12:18:18
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 AFI Fest For more in the 2018 AFI Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Boston Underground Film Festival 21 For more in the Boston Underground Film Festival 21 series, click here.

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