LFF 2018 – Knife + Heart, Joy, The Guilty

I’m currently attending the BFI London Film Festival, so will be popping in with reviews of everything I get the chance to see…

Vanessa Paradis and Nicolas Maury star in French thriller Knife + Heart
Vanessa Paradis and Nicolas Maury star in French thriller Knife + Heart

Knife + Heart

In terms of movies that have a catnip hook for genre fans, it’s tough to match “gay porn industry giallo”. With that hook behind it, Knife + Heart is a film that features a cheeky, surprisingly chaste depiction of a softcore French porn house in 1970s Paris. On the other side of the coin is a significantly less cheeky take on the traditional black-gloved assailant of the giallo – this one kills with a switchblade dildo. His target is the porn house cast and crew, led by boss Anne (Vanessa Paradis), who still harbours a deep and perhaps unrequited love for film editor Lois (Kate Moran).

The first act of Knife + Heart breezes by in a flurry of black comedy, vibrant colour and lashings of gore, as Paradis’s provocateur turns the real terror afflicting her company into her new movie – first titled ‘Anal Fury’ before moving to the significantly punnier ‘Homocidal’. Nicolas Maury particularly stands out as uber-gay director-star Archie, deadpan quipping that their troupe is so gay “even our girls have cocks”. The performers seem at home with this side of the material and their energy is enough to carry the first act.

Unfortunately, the energy takes something of a nosedive when the necessary detective mechanics of a giallo tale come to the surface, isolating Paradis as the lone figure investigating who is behind the killing spree. The laughs die down and the grisly set pieces disappear, leaving behind an enormous dollop of plot that isn’t nearly as interesting as the flamboyant backdrop of writer-director Yann Gonzalez‘s carefully crafted 70s porn world setting.

It’s as if the movie is rather too indebted to the Dario Argento films it’s so determined to ape. Even the score, by French electronic group M83, owes an obvious debt to the giallos of the past. Gonzalez gets so wrapped up in telling a thriller story with twists and turns that he fails to spotlight the strengths of his movie and the things that make it unique. If any other movie features death by deep throat stabbing, I’m yet to see it.

(Dir: Yann Gonzalez, 102 mins, UK Release: n/a)

Mariam Sanusi and Anwulika Alphonsus star in trafficking drama Joy
Mariam Sanusi and Anwulika Alphonsus star in trafficking drama Joy


During the first half an hour of Joy, young sex worker Precious (Mariam Sanusi) is unable to pay her regular dues to her no-nonsense ‘Madame’ (a skin-crawling Angela Ekeleme). She is taken into the next room by two men and screams as she is brutally raped. Writer-director Sudabeh Mortezai chooses to keep the violence off screen, instead cutting between the reactions of the other women living in the shared apartment. They’re shaken, but painfully aware that this is part and parcel of the brutal world in which they live.

It’s a bleak scene, but one that serves as a real statement of intent for Mortezai’s impressive and unsettling movie. This is a warts and all depiction of trafficking, focusing specifically on a group of Nigerian woman brought to Austria to work for Ekeleme’s brutal boss – part pleasant aunt, part threatening overseer. Plot is kept to a minimum as the story alternates from the perspective of newbie Precious to Anwulika Alphonsus as the titular, more experienced, sex worker. It’s this lack of narrative focus that occasionally cripples the movie and leaves it feeling a little slight, but it also allows for the naturalistic relationships between the characters to take centre stage.

Sanusi, in particular, is a tremendous discovery who embodies the unbridled fear of being in a strange country with no one to trust. Alphonsus, meanwhile, is the vessel through which the audience is forced to confront the many factors keeping these women in their horrifying place, from financial constriction to the ever-present threat of dark ‘juju’ rituals bringing about spiritual revenge on anyone who steps out of line. The final scene and its chilling nod to the cyclical nature of exploitation is a fittingly wretched conclusion to a tale that certainly works hard to make its title as ironic as possible.

(Dir: Sudabeh Mortezai, 99 mins, UK Release: n/a)

Jakob Cedergren stars in single location thriller The Guilty
Jakob Cedergren stars in single location thriller The Guilty

The Guilty

Danish thriller The Guilty is essentially how Tom Hardy‘s impressive drama Locke would’ve played out if its jeopardy was life or death, rather than being predominantly focused around pouring concrete. The brilliant Jakob Cedergren appears in every frame of the movie as emergency services call handler – and suspended cop – Asger, who finds himself with a lot on his plate when a kidnapped woman rings for help. It soon transpires that it’s her former partner behind the crime, and he has left their two young children home alone.

This is a stripped down conceit and it’s one that allows writer-director Gustav Möller to mine a considerable amount of claustrophobic tension. The story is intermittently gripping, helped by Cedergren’s emotive and complex performance. Much like the wheelchair-bound James Stewart in Rear Window, he’s a surrogate for the audience, desperate to intervene but absolutely powerless.

Like so many thrillers built around a mystery concept, it peters out once all of the cards have been laid on the table and everything has to wrap itself up. However, at its strongest moments, it’s a white-knuckle exercise in tension held together by a great actor delivering a true showcase of a performance.

(Dir: Gustav Möller, 85 mins, UK Release: October 26)

BFI London Film Festival 2018
BFI London Film Festival 2018

Are you excited to see any of the above films? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and make sure you keep coming back for the next few weeks for reviews of all of the best movies from the BFI London Film Festival 2018.

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