Blending porn, murder and humor

Blending porn, murder and humor

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Set in 1979 Paris and in the gay-porn world, “Knife+Heart,” opening April 5 at the Landmark Ritz at the Bourse, is a cheeky queer thriller. Not only is director/co-writer Yann Gonzalez’s tongue planted firmly in cheek — his film features comic porno humor — but he also takes some real chances, most of which pay off.

The film opens with a sequence that cross-cuts between sex and death. Fouad (Khaled Alouach) is an adult-film star who meets an untimely end when a masked man ties him to a bed, strips him naked and murders him with a dildo that doubles as a knife.

Meanwhile, Loïs (Kate Moran) is editing Fouad’s latest sex film for her lover Anne Parèze (a delicious Vanessa Paradis). It will be the last film Loïs works on; she is breaking up with Anne after 10 years together. Anne is bereft, but what is equally troublesome is that her actors are being killed off one by one. 

“Knife+Heart” has considerable fun in its first act depicting porn films. Anne’s right-hand man, actor-director Archibald (Nicolas Maury), is amusing as he calls on the resident fluffer, known as “The Mouth of Gold” (Pierre Pirol), to get Thierry (Félix Maritaud) to inject some life into a sex scene.

Likewise, a film-within-a-film depicting a double orgasm is pretty funny. Moreover, after Anne is called into the police station to be questioned by a detective about Fouad’s death, she recreates the interrogation scene with cheesy, sexy verve in one of her films. Titled “Homocidal,” Anne has the on-screen detective play footsie with Archie-as-Anne’s crotch, while Thierry grinds his concealed erection into the desk. 

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Vanessa Paradis (Center)

 

Gonzalez doesn’t feature anything particularly explicit in these adult-film scenes, save for a quick, flaccid cock shot when an actor takes off his underwear. (He throws it at Archie, who sniffs it hungrily, generating a laugh.) However, there is a rather graphic blow-job murder involving the dildo-cum-knife in one of the film’s more violent sequences.

But Gonzalez is deliberately going over the top here, so viewers are more likely to chuckle than scream at the violence. Even a stage performance that Anne watches in a lesbian club mixing sex and blood, ecstasy and pain, is more funny than it is scary. 

The film also features a striking sequence involving the actors and some drag queens that get involved in the “Homocidal” production celebrating the completion of the film with a picnic. But a sudden storm ends the party, and while Anne is off talking with Loïs about their relationship status, another actor is murdered.

Unfortunately, as stylish and as clever as all these aforementioned moments are, “Knife+Heart” loses steam when it shifts away from the porn world and the murders and focuses on Anne trying to figure out “whodunnit.” Throughout the film, Gonzalez has several negative-image scenes — of a fire and of a man screaming — that may be Anne’s visions or perhaps her memories. These shots are later revealed to have meaning, but viewers may be less interested in puzzling them out. 

As Anne follows the trail of a grackle’s feather to a mysterious couple — one of whom has a rare genetic disorder — things just start getting weird for the sake of being weird. These elements gild the lily and deflate the energy. A subsequent visit Anne makes to a forest cemetery features too much exposition and too little emotion. “Knife+Heart” starts to generate more impatience than intrigue. 

And it is a shame that the film goes slack, because Gonzalez is shrewd enough to provide a nice homage to “Andy Warhol’s Blow Job” featuring Thierry, or an inventive moment of voyeurism when Anne spies on Loïs through a peephole in her editing suite. 

There are also some dreamy scenes from “Homocidal” that play throughout “Knife+Heart,” but as the film climaxes in a porno theater — where Anne goes to watch “Homocidal” on endless loop with an audience — the convergence of all the plots and characters fails to satisfy. 

The actors do their best with mixed results. Paradis has some appeal when enticing a handsome young man to join her stable of adult-film performers, and she is expressive in mourning her failed relationship with Loïs.

However, it is difficult to care about her character. She comes across almost like an avatar, going through the motions of the porn world, her personal life and the crime-solving without feeling. Gonzalez may have wanted the actress to be detached, but if so, it is a curious choice. 

Better is Maury as Archibald. He provides the film with some camp humor and his scenes performing as Anne in “Homocidal” are especially droll.

“Knife+Heart” may be over-ambitious in its heady mix of porno and murder, but what it does well is worthwhile.


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