The New French Film That Trades In Porn & Crimes Of Passion
Text Kyle Turner
If our relationships are defined by the dynamics of power—the ways it is exchanged, traded, stolen, relinquished, knowingly or unknowingly—then consider Yann Gonzalez’s new film Knife + Heart a treatise on submission; cinema, in the end, makes bottoms of us all.
In shades of blue and red neon our protagonist Anne (Vanessa Paradis) is completing one of her gay porno shoots as her hot and cold relationship with her editor Loïs (Kate Moran) hits the rocks. When the dead body of one of her stars turns up she mines the ensuing investigation as fodder for her next film Anal Fury (later retitled Homo-cidal). Soon, cast and crew are being picked off by a mysterious bondage-masked murderer.
Tormented by the dissolution of her relationship with Loïs, Anne carves with a knife into a thread of 16mm film: “You have killed me.” When played back on the edit dock, the crudely written words appear atop one of her actors as he receives oral sex, recalling the phantasmagoria of Andy Warhol’s Blow Job.
Anne’s work is no longer for herself, but it is of herself, submitting. Cinema becomes an apparatus through which she can both unpack her unconscious desires and construct a revisionist version of her life; Anne is as much the audience as she is the creator in this case, her porn both a fantasy and a perversion—but not an untruth, per se.
We so often connote artifice with badness: the unnatural is a lie, the construction is devoid of depth. But in artifice, and within the artifice of porn, the truth stares right back at the audience, our desires untamed and contradictory. Knife + Heart finds the emotional reality in that fantasy. And in a Barthesian vein we, in turn, are the lover: waiting, wanting, ecstatic.
The ultimate fantasy is to be able to control pleasure without limits, for passion itself to be a limitless experience. Steven Marcus coined the term “pornutopia” in The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in mid-nineteenth-century England, defining it as a landscape filled with people who are always sexually available. These fantasies, even at their most transgressive within the universe Gonzalez has created, suggest that total control is the same as a loss of control.
The transliteration of the French title Un Couteau Dans le Coeur — A Knife in the Heart—again suggests a kind of penetration, a willful play on the dynamics between dominance and submission. Cinema is a medium about manipulation, breaking down the audience to feel things. Knife + Heart’s ultimate power move is to acknowledge cinema as fantasy, porn as cinema, artifice as truth, and submission as par for the course.—