Knife + Heart and Obsession

Christina Newland

Knife + Heart (2018), dir. Yann Gonzalez  

Obsession comes easily to the art of cinema. The object of obsession or thing itself is secondary, but the voyeurism that’s intrinsic to the act of filming tends to put whatever the subject is on a pedestal. Whether the obsession is sex, wealth, envy, or something more abstract, filmmaking is the ideal medium to express it. Knife + Heart fixes itself at the locus of cinema’s most classically-ingrained obsessions. Its twisty whodunit plot set against the world of ‘70s Parisian pornography. Anne (Vanessa Paradis) is a hard-drinking gay porn director and all-around rotten individual, trying to win back her colleague and lesbian lover.

When a brutally sadistic sex killer begins to stalk the cast and crew of Anne’s latest production, she delves into her own version of an investigation. Offering a twist on the typical victimised bombshell of giallo, Anne is brash and aggressive. With a queasily roving camera and an unflinching depiction of the porn industry, Gonzalez is unafraid to be lurid. Yet the most central obsession of Knife + Heart is neither Anne’s romantic fixation on her ex nor the killer’s drive to commit murder. Instead, it’s Gonzalez’ own fixation on cinema history and homage that gets the most airtime. Knife + Heart leans heavily into the influence of the chic, racy Italian horror movies of the seventies - giallo, as they became known - as well as the more outre output of Brian De Palma. The result is perverse, stylish, and more than a little bit referential to movies of the past, but it’s well-suited to the overall themes that percolate throughout Knife + Heart: often the things we are obsessed with are ciphers that we project onto, telling us more about ourselves than anything else.


Christina Newland writes on Film and Culture, with work in the Guardian, Little White Lies, Sight & Sound and mubi Notebook. 

Find more articles at or follow her on twitter at @christinalefou