Yann Gonzalez • Director
"I’m a big fan of the cinema of love and subversion"
- Yann Gonzalez unpacks Knife + Heart, unveiled in competition at Cannes and starring Vanessa Paradis as a gay porn film producer
We met up with Yann Gonzalez in Paris to talk about his second feature film, Knife + Heart [+see also:
interview: Nicolas Maury
interview: Yann Gonzalez
film profile], a CG Cinéma production unveiled in competition at the 71st Cannes Film Festival and released in French cinemas by Memento Films Distribution on 27 June. A very sophisticated reinterpretation of the giallo genre that goes behind the scenes of a gay porn cinema and only serves to confirm the originality of a filmmaker discovered on the Croisette at Critics' Week in 2013 with You and the Night [+see also:
Cineuropa: Is the main character based on a real person?
Yann Gonzalez: She’s based on a gay porn producer who worked in the late 70s. I thought she was a very inspiring, electric character. But the only things I kept in the film were her alcoholism, her job, obviously, and her relationship with her editor, which provides the film’s main story arc. My co-writer, Cristiano Mangionewe, and I completely transformed the woman’s personality in order to give her a bit of romanticism – black romanticism. There was a somewhat grubby side to it all, given the fact that she was shooting films in half a day on an old sofa, but I wanted to make things a bit lighter – less seedy and sordid. When you have such a powerful, extreme female character, it inevitably conjures up certain ideas. We already had the world of the porno, which established some respectability. I met a lot of people who worked in the porn industry at the time – actors, producers and filmmakers – who more or less knew this woman, and they also inspired me.
You describe the film as "a romantic woman’s ride on a ghost train.”
It’s a return to a more fairground style of cinema, where beliefs can suddenly spring up from three pieces of string. We get on the ghost train ride and we’re scared, even if we know that they’re only actors. Even if we know that it’s all fake, we want to believe in it because we have an inherent desire to go back to our childhoods. This film is like a slightly disturbed, dark child. We should never lose our connection with childhood when making films, because childhood signifies freedom and imagination. It’s about fully enjoying everything we see, all that is offered to us, without bias. And this story has been made without bias, with free characters, who experience their sexuality without asking questions. It was crucial for me to show this underworld and to bathe it in freedom – that’s what the film is all about.
How far did you want to go in playing with genre cinema and the influences of the giallo or Brian De Palma?
To the point of incandescence. It’s a game of extremes, in which the film is not afraid to flirt with different environments and is not afraid of feelings, emotions. It gives its heart and guts at the same time. My co-writer and I discovered a lot of ideas that made us laugh, like two crazy people let loose in a playground. We didn’t shy away from the grotesque, from idiocy, things that are increasingly less accepted in cinema these days.
When did you decide to cast Vanessa Paradis in the role of the porn producer?
I wanted to open the film up to a wider audience than I did with my first feature film. And I also wanted a star to play the main character from the very beginning. Vanessa is a rare star because she is not at all jaded. She wanted that same romance and intensity, and I wanted to put it on her face, which is a fairly traditional 1920s/30s face, very expressive, which catches the light in a unique way. She has a fragile body – she is very thin and small. I found it exciting to anchor intensity in her body, like two counter currents about to converge. Cinema is also the art of opposites, it's about bringing together antagonistic things, creating sparks.
So bringing the transgressive to the mainstream is your goal?
It’s an almost political will: to bring back rudeness and more marginal culture into the heart of cinema, in a film that receives a normal about of financing. It's important because I’m a big fan of the cinema of love and subversion. I don’t view different film types in a hierarchy, and that idea is at the heart of the film: we approach all image styles as if they can all generate the same amount of beauty. Sometimes it might not work out, but all you need is a plan, a connection, an actor, a look, a certain melancholy, and you’re inspired to make a film. And then consequentially young viewers also want to make films after watching mine, saying to themselves: it really is possible to make your dream film.
(Translated from French)
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