FILMMAKER DISCUSSES INFLUENCE OF DE PALMA & OTHERS ON 'KNIFE + HEART'
Last October, Knife + Heart director Yann Gonzalez told Film Inquiry's Hazem Fahmy that he showed Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise to actor Jonathan Genet, in preparation for his role in the film. Now, Gonzalez tells Kyle Turner at Filmmaker Magazine that he gave star Vanessa Paradis a DVD of De Palma's Blow Out, among others, to give her an idea of the style of acting he was going for:
Filmmaker: Did you do any kind of preparation with Vanessa Paradis before shooting?
Gonalez: Not really. Vanessa needs to be on set to really feel her character. We met several times before though, often with Kate Moran and Nicolas Maury, but it was more like a way to get to know each other. The only thing I did is to offer her some DVDs in order to help her understanding the kind of acting I had in mind for Anne. Possession by Zulawski, Neige by Juliet Berto, Blow Out by Brian De Palma: very intense, sometimes over-the-top performances, more cinematic than realistic. The blonde hair, green raincoat and red boots did the rest!
Meanwhile, back at the time of the Cannes premiere of Knife + Heart, Gonzalez discussed De Palma in more detail to Sugarpulp:
In the galaxy of favorite influences that guide you and that you often quote (Werner Schroeter, Paul Vecchiali, R.W. Fassbinder…), this film brings to light a new figure: Brian De Palma.
My co-writer and I share a great passion for De Palma; this is a common thread that has clearly led us both. In terms of emotional thrillers, De Palma is the king, with films such as Carrie, Blow Out, and Dressed to Kill.
These are also the first films I showed my producer, Charles Gillibert, to demonstrate to him in what direction I wanted to take Knife+Heart, proportionally speaking, of course. De Palma has this unabashed, playful side, weaving constantly between fiction, reality, the cinema, fantasy, and voyeurism.
He also has an absolute love of the cinema. Knife+Heart starts with a 16mm editing table and finishes up on a sort of stellar “projection”… The love of the matter that makes up cinema itself is very much present. A cry of love and rage is etched into the actual film with a knife and is only visible once it’s been through the viewer… I really liked the idea that a woman’s desperate love situation could slip its way onto the film itself.
How did you profile the 70s treatment? The film never falls into the “period film” cliché, it’s much more subtle than that.
I was really worried about it looking like an academic reconstruction, and with my Director of Photography, Simon Beaufils, we very quickly got the idea of working using light to work on the period. Today, all Paris streets are lit using sodium lighting, which gives a horrible yellowy-orange light. So we strived to find the blue-green neon glow of French films from the late 70s / early 80s. Obviously there was a lot of very important and precise work on costumes and settings but, above all, I didn’t want a film that would look outdated. It also had to be able to talk about today’s world using faces and bodies from today. That’s why I called on iconic figures of present-day nightlife, such as Simon Thiébaut who plays Dominique, the head of the transgender gang; or the choreographer for the club scene, Ari de B, who came on set with all his dancers. There’s something very contemporary that shines out through our fantasy 1979 Paris.
Color is extremely present and particularly flashy. It has strong visual presence…
The film shows messed up, euphoric characters, and I wanted a visual portrayal of the inner quandaries they are struggling with. I didn’t want to shy away from going deep inside their minds and extracting images. I love this idea of embracing experimental practices and bringing them into slightly more mainstream cinema, even if I’m aware of the fact that I don’t make the most mainstream films in the world (laughs)! There’s a whole “fringe” that has nurtured my love of the cinema and I want to bring that into my universe, make it more visible. I’m thinking for example of Paul Sharits’ films that used strobing to give a flicker effect to images and I picked up on that to portray the killer’s negative image “memories”.
How did you go about working on the music with your brother, Anthony Gonzalez? What desires guided you in this particular project?
We wanted to recapture the Gialli ambiance of the 70s, to feel that sinister yet sentimental tone. But we also needed to distance ourselves from that in order to create something contemporary, and not find ourselves in a pastiche of the genre and its music. Faithful yet unfaithful at the same time… We are both poetical and even sentimental, in a certain way. We wanted to dive in headlong, particularly as melancholy and poetry are found in numerous 70s horror film sound tracks, from films by Lucio Fulci to those by Mario Bava – I’m thinking in particular of the harrowing sound tracks of Don’t Torture a Duckling or Twitch of the Death Nerve.
And here again, this principle of pleasure came rushing back: I got Anthony to listen some old sound tracks from straight and gay porn films. He quickly gathered the musical codes and finally, the most beautiful tracks in Knife + Heart the most pleasurable ones, are probably the ones he recreated for the film’s fake porn movies.
For this sound track, Anthony worked once again with Nicolas Fromageau, who he’d already worked with on the first two M83 albums and who’s a childhood friend. For the three of us, there’s something about Knife+Heart that’s strongly linked to our teenage years and the films that fostered our love of cinema.
The films I liked as a teenager were a little more “strange”. My brother is four years younger than me and he told me a few years after the fact that he and Nicolas used to sneak into my bedroom in Antibes to watch my videos by Jodorowsky, Richard Kern and Jean Rollin… And they were quite marked by that! The sound track to Knife+Heart was a way for Nicolas, Anthony and I to come back to our first loves, our first powerful images and sensations from the cinema.
How did you deal with shooting the porn scenes? They’re extremely suggestive, but you don’t actually see anything head-on.
I didn’t want the sexuality to veil Anne’s tragedy, her adventure, which for me is the film’s backbone. It’s first and foremost the portrait of a woman and it just so happens she produces porn films. We kept all the imagery and the substance and had great fun with that but without showing the coarsest of images because to top it off, that’s not what I retain from porn films of the period. I wanted to come back to a sort of innocence and naïveté that you saw in the first porn films. It was before AIDS came on the scene and there was an obvious enjoyment in playing together, and taking pleasure together and some films even mixed heterosexual and homosexual sex scenes. Nicolas Maury dealt really well with this playful aspect in the fantastic way he has of playing with genders, identities, and even his own femininity when he portrays a transgender version of Vanessa in several scenes.
It was important to make these scenes moments of comedy and to bring a certain joy into the sex. The aim was to make the viewer want to be a part of things. I think that a young heterosexual male could quite easily want to live within the film. For me it’s a much more important gesture, and much more political than showing sex scenes in order to shock the middle class… who aren’t actually shocked by much and haven’t been in a very long time!
In any case, your cinema contains more of an erotic element rather than veritable pornography.
For me, cinema is ontologically erotic. We mentioned De Palma a little earlier. We could also have mentioned Verhoeven, Argento, Fulci and dozen other great or lesser masters who aren’t so well known. I miss that subversion in today’s cinema. Sexuality cuts through feelings; it’s part of what forms a person, part of his or her story. Anne is tormented by her sexuality, through her work but also because of the way she loves. The use of voyeurism inherited from De Palma recurs throughout the story: Anne spies on her editor through a spyhole; two boys are spied on by one’s father as they have sex… It’s something that is repeated throughout the film. There’s a very erotic desire that isn’t mine, it belongs to the film itself, to its very essence. We’re in a time of regression and puritanism that I wanted to go against whilst recapturing the lifeblood of cinema.