Yann Gonzalez’s “Knife+Heart” makes you wonder what sort of mutant brain must’ve been responsible for its conception. There’s bizarre, and then there’s violated-by-demented-extraterrestrials bizarre. This is the first (and only) film I’ve seen that belongs to the latter category.
When I tried to imagine how and why this movie came into being, the best explanation I could come up with is that the director’s brain must have been disassembled and then re-arranged by sadomasochistic aliens. The characters on screen appear to be humans, and yet their psychology is so askew that it feels as though the movie was made by beings who lack all the constituent elements of a human soul. If you were to split the characters’ brains in half, you’d find certain regions rabidly aflare and others shriveled up and desiccated. These eerie cadaverous human-like beings live only to optimize the pleasure-to-stasis ratio of every waking moment, and yet the movie doesn’t dramatize the emptiness at the core of their existence. Instead, it elevates their pathological hedonism to an intoxicating, elated never-ending farce. To watch the movie is to be in thrall to a sort of hypnotically unwinding vortex which endlessly empties out into nowhere. Void as the vortex may be, after a while it becomes ecstatically narcotizing.
I have to admit, when I bought the ticket I had no idea what I was signing up for. After I made myself at home in a comfortably chewed-up indie movie theater seat, I began to scan my surroundings and discovered a curious array of people. Crammed to the brim in the tiny screening room were hundreds of humans of an unidentifiable species: an eerie hybrid of porn-director/hipster/sadomasochism-junkie/basement-dweller/socially maladjusted-seeming folk. Thankfully, I was donning a leather jacket scarred with at least ten separate zippers, so I could more or less dissolve into my surroundings. I neurotically waited for a few minutes before the movie abruptly opened to a scene of a fully-leather-clad man violating a wiry, scrawny ephebe with a dildo that doubled as a switchblade. While I was squirming in my seat, cautiously peering out from the hands cupped over my eyes, everyone around me was in hysterical fits of laughter and ecstasy. This is the sort of shit I put myself through for the sake of the auspicious Umass Boston Film Blog, I thought to myself. I’m a relatively mild person, habituated to spending the bulk of my time serenely contemplating philosophy and engaging in other elderly-vanilla pursuits. Having these images forced upon me felt like the paralytically drastic temperature change you experience when your cozily lukewarm body is suddenly submerged in lethally cold waters.
My chameleonic brain took some time to accommodate itself to the dimensions of the movie, but when it did, I felt audiovisually hypnotized in a way that I’ve never felt before. After initially assaulting my senses, the film leveled out into a persistently-overstimulating blissful wave. The structure of the film is exoskeletal: the aspects which usually take the fore in movies are merely peripheral here, and the aspects which are usually peripheral here become its unstoppable life-force. It’s a movie nested within a movie nested within a movie, ad infinitum, to the point where it becomes unclear where the layers begin and where they end. It’s a serpentine tragicomedy about a female porn-director, Anne (Vanessa Paradis) who falls bottomlessly in love with one of her pornstars, Lois (Kate Moran), and uses her anguish to motivate her feverish porno-productions. At the same time, a dildo-switchblade murderer is constantly on the prowl, picking off her actors off one by one for reasons unknown. Life and cinema become symbiotically fused together when Anne starts producing movies which are meant to be demented parodies of real-life, although it’s crude to even call the reality they exist in anything but irreal.
What initially comes across as kitsch, over-the-top sensationalist rigmarole eventually becomes so overstimulating that it evolves into one of the most enveloping film experiences you’ll ever have. The movie deadens you and then redeems you. There is something immensely baptismal about being force-fed an onslaught of all the deviant aspects of our psyches that we usually go to the movies to take refuge from.