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In “Un Couteau dans le Coeur” (“Knife + Heart”), Vanessa Paradis plays Anne Pareze, a gay porn producer who’s still hung up on her ex and film editor, Loïs (Kate Moran). Anne commands a coterie of young, male porn actors, whom she scouts at bars and workplaces, enticing them with the promise of decent pay and guaranteed pleasure (and with her big doll eyes, she’s one hell of a persuader). Anne’s movies are campy and atrocious, bearing lewd titles like “Spunk in the Field” and “Homocidal” (or in French, “Le Tueur Homo,” literally, “the Homo Killer”—perhaps translation was a gift in this case), and like all stereotypical ’70s porn, present hyperbolically sexualized versions of reality. (Her flamboyant sidekick, Archibald (Nicolas Maury), often plays her in drag, wearing her platinum blonde bob and blue eyeshadow.) Anne’s production comes to a standstill, though, when a mysterious, masked serial killer begins to murder her actors one by one with a dildo-shaped knife, each killing more gruesome than the last. Anne must hatch a plan to find out the killer, or risk the lives of her other actors.
“Un Couteau dans le Coeur” tries to achieve some semblance of self-awareness, a sly wink at its own garish kitsch in neon lettering. But unlike Anne’s pornography, the film never reaches its—ahem—climax, deflating its characters into whiny caricatures and stabbing its (otherwise fun) conceit in the chest by oversaturating the film with bloodlust and saccharine emotion.
Director Yann Gonzalez starts strong with an interesting framework that equates love and death (after all, it’s the French language that likens orgasm to “the little death”). “The more I kill you, the more I love you,” a burlesque dancer proclaims melodramatically during a performance. The erotic is, without a doubt, undercut with a tinge of the morbid and macabre, even in Anne’s own videos: In vintage film, two young men kiss passionately in an empty field, while an ominous voyeur lurks in the background, watching. Gonzalez intercuts the film with grayscale, inverted-color frames of fire, stabbing, and rough sex, the looming spectre of violence to resurface in the film’s (less-than-satisfactory) ending scene. After the first five minutes, though, the spliced footage begins to feel less interestingly cryptic and more amateur, like a student film that nobody bothered to edit seriously. Even with the revelation underlying the barn footage, it still feels unjustified, a desperate grab at meaning, a pathetic scare tactic. And the silly porn movies, initially somewhat humorous, deliberately overdone, become frankly irrational. Why, after all, is Anne concerned with producing more, when her actors’ lives are at stake?
Perhaps because Anne is as unbothered by death as we are, desensitized with each exaggeratedly gory murder: one curly-haired young man tied to a bed and stabbed repeatedly in the rectum, another deepthroated with a dagger in a dark parking lot. Anne is more focused on her unrequited attempt to recharge her love affair, her unrequited passion for Loïs growing the more her lover rejects her. “When you lose yourself with another person,” she tells an unconvinced police officer, “it’s a form of love: powerful, voracious, boundless.” One gets a sense of her vehement desperation to be liked, too, by her peers, the feelings of inadequacy that stem from her dismay at Loïs’s lack of reciprocation, which Paradis plays with embarrassing conviction. “Am I still beautiful?” she asks her assistant on set, after she appears in a minor role in her own film. “Not wilted?”
If there’s anything to be salvaged from the colorful over-stimuli of “Un Couteau dans le Coeur,” it’s the visibility of the LGBTQ community, from twink to drag queen, and the liberation of their sexual expression. In Anne’s lurid skin flicks, Gonzalez creates a space for their desire and identity, in their most vivid and unabashed forms, from BDSM to role-play to drag. It’s a shame they’re systematically punished, with murder by dildo-knife—killed by the very desire they lived on.
—Staff writer Caroline A. Tsai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @carolinetsai3.
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