KNIFE+HEART (UN COUTEAU DANS LE CŒUR), a film by Yann Gonzalez with Vanessa Paradis, Nicolas Maury, Kate Moran. Interview with Vanessa Paradis
Paris, Summer 1979. Anne (Vanessa Paradis) produces third-rate gay porn. After her editor and lover Lois (Kate Moran) leaves her, she tries to win her back by shooting her most ambitious film yet with her trusted, flamboyant sidekick Archibald (Nicolas Maury).
Interview with Vanessa Paradis
As we meet, you’re still under the shock of seeing the film for the first time, yesterday evening. But I’d like you to travel back in time: you’ve just turned the last page of the script of Knife+Heart. What are you feeling?
It’s just totally obvious. Absolutely so! This wonderfully written scenario that tells me a story I’ve never read elsewhere and that offers me an incredible role, how could I possibly pass it up? I, who have always dreamed of complex fictional persons, experimenting with excessive characters, without always meeting these expectations… So, as I closed Knife+Heart, I was very excited at the idea that I should be given the gift of such a role. I’m neither an author nor a film director, but I’m not sure I would have though of offering me this role!… (laughs)
How did you prepare for you role as Anne? Did you do research on the period? Did you watch new films or take another look at some you’d already seen?…
Yann showed me several films, the ones that seemed the most important to him, including Dressed to Kill by Brian De Palma, Simone Barbès ou la vertu by Marie-Claude Treilhou, Possession by Andrzej Zulawski, and Neige by Juliet Berto… We talked a lot about it upstream but we did very little, strictly speaking, in the way of read-throughs or rehearsals. I do however remember one time, at mine, when we rehearsed the scene where Anne goes to recruit a guy on a worksite, and she entices him and clinches the deal with him, slipping a bank note into his pants. Yann, who’s quite shy when he isn’t on set directing, was playing the young man, and I was there, rubbing myself up against him as I was supposed to be a real tease. We were screaming with laughter because we were both equally embarrassed. It was surprising that he chose that scene in particular, but I think he wanted to check out my preying mantis side.
Do you remember things that Yann Gonzalez told you about, key elements about the character, which helped you to prepare for the role?
What I understood very quickly was that I had to play someone who could be frightening, who could hurt other people and who was a sort of lawless, faithless bulldozer. She’s harsh, aggressive, an alcoholic, but she’s also in love, sick with love, and she’s willing to do anything to get back the woman she loves, even if the way she goes about it is all but delicate. I didn’t know myself just how far I could go, so the first few days, I was a bit too much of a pitbull! Shouting isn’t enough to make you scary. I had to find the right measure, to play someone who’s ultra-motivated to get their lover back, whatever it costs, but who’s imbibed in alcohol… There’s a flatness about her that comes from the alcohol, but it has to be offset by something more vigorous: a determination that comes from love. Yann said to me: “You’re allowed to bring in some of your own compassion or fragility.” That helped me balance out my intentions.
Effectively, in the opening scene, it’s striking how well you’ve “picked up” the alcoholic’s way of speaking, slightly slurred, but not too much…
I couldn’t have done that at the age of twenty. I’ve had to come across a lot of alcoholics to pick up on that very particular way of speaking. The point isn’t just to imitate some mindless windbag: alcoholics, the real ones, have incredibly clear minds and speech.
It’s a very surprising choice, coming from you, to take this direction, with this style of film that’s more unusual and radical than the films you’ve made before. Is that something you particularly intended to do?
No, not at all. I always dreamed of playing varied, extravagant and unusual roles! You make your choices depending on what’s on offer, you know. It’s easier to make good choices when you have great propositions! I’ve always wanted to play in films that I found surprising, be it because of their tone, the story or the mise en scène. But those films weren’t always around.
Did certain aspects of the film, certain scenes, frighten you, or provoke any apprehension in particular?
Yes, of course. For the scene where I had to attack Kate Moran, I was frightened of attacking Kate, who is someone I absolutely adore. I really wanted to get that scene behind us as quickly as possible. Yann too, I think. Kate and I talked about it a lot, without rehearsing. We were really nervous. On the day itself, Yann kept saying: “Everything’s great, but you’re not strangling her!” I’d put my hand on her throat but I couldn’t tighten it. It’s Kate who encouraged me to tighten my grasp; it was kind of funny in a strange way! I loved watching Kate play on set. She trained as a dancer, which means she carries herself very proudly and is also a really hard worker and extremely disciplined. And above all, she has incredible presence on camera. I’m really touched by the cineaste/muse relationship that she and Yann have had for so long. I have a great deal of admiration for that sort of partnership.
As a mirror image of the ruined relationship between you and Kate Moran, is the brighter relationship you have with Nicolas Maury, and who is a sort of friendly backbone to the film’s plot. How did your role interaction come about?
On his first day of shooting, I discovered Nicolas wearing a blond wig and my green raincoat, ready to play my character opposite two policemen, in a porn film! That inevitably creates bonds! You should have heard Yann laughing with each of Nicolas’ takes. His voice and his non-verbal communication are fascinating. His theatrical training gives him incredible security and freedom. He’s immediately spot on. I can tell you, he doesn’t need several days to get into character. Nicolas and Kate are both really hard workers, they read and cultivate themselves constantly. From the first time that Yann introduced the three of us, we were in a buzz, waiting for the day when we could finally start this film that we were longing to make – in fact the whole team felt the same way. And every day that we were shooting, we debriefed on what we’d done the day before, more and more excited and enthralled by what Yann was giving us the chance to do.
What about the costumes? We’re not in a graphic reconstitution of the 70s, but certain important items (the bottle-green vinyl trench coat, the leather skirt, the red boots) have strong visual presence and we can tell that they were very carefully chosen.
Yann called on Pauline Jacquard. It was her first job on a film. She had worked in fashion but it was her first experience as a cinema costume designer. She offered up some wonderful ideas. Then it was Yann who chose everything, with my assistance. Sometimes, I liked certain outfits, but Yann would say “No, no”. He knew exactly what he wanted. It’s incredible to what extent the costume immediately creates an attitude. Everything was authentic vintage: the beautiful red boots, for example. We only had one pair and the heel looked like it was going to come off. When I ran in the rain, I dreaded the thought that I might ruin our sole pair of magnificent red boots.
And your peroxide blond hairdo; how did that come about?
From the offset, Yann had his mind set on platinum blond. We’d looked at lots of period photos and very quickly came across pictures of Debbie Harry from Blondie, who is undeniably extremely inspirational, as regards period look/makeup/hairdo. Then we created our own mix; a composition of several inspirations, but the original idea came from Debbie Harry. In a slightly more disheveled, more flawed version, let’s say… As regards makeup, when we found the electric blue eye shadow, that was another important step. I remember the day when I did the first fittings for the finalized costume/hairdo: I saw stars in the team’s eyes. Because at last, after having been pushed back, jeopardized, uncertain of existing, this film we’d been waiting so long to make was becoming reality and the main character existed. Until today, I can still remember the way they looked at me and the way it made me feel.
How would you describe the way Yann Gonzalez works?
His artistic perception is very precise and very open. I’ve seen him work non-stop. Everything was ultra- joyful, but ultra-prepared, always. Sometimes, on set, we’d be laughing and messing around with the team, and I’d see Yann off to one side, thinking, about the next shot, about the next scene. I adore seeing people who are infused by their art to that extent. For the scène where we do the casting for trans prostitutes, we filmed until 6am in a tiny café. It was packed; it was 50° inside and you couldn’t breathe. Yann didn’t give up on me until he got exactly what he wanted. I absolutely love people like that!
Your history at the Cannes Festival is marked by highlights: the song “Le Tourbillon de la vie” with Jeanne Moreau in 1995, your presence as a member of the Jury 2016, but surprisingly you’ve never presented a film in competition at Cannes!
That’s true. I had an incredible time as a jury member two years ago. At the time, I thought: I’d really like to come and present a film here one day… And I’m so happy that it’s with this film. With all the love and enthusiasm that we felt every day as we made this film, the idea of meeting up again and going up the steps on the red carpet together… I’m overjoyed. We’re being led in a beautiful dance.
VANESSA PARADIS Biography
Vanessa Paradis has been a part of the French musical landscape since 1987, when as a young girl of 14, she was number 1 of the Top 50 for 11 weeks.
Two years later, in 1990, she started her cinema career with NOCE BLANCHE by Jean-Claude Brisseau. For this first role, she won a César Award for Most Promising Actress. The same year she won her first Victoire de la Musique award for the female singer of the year with VARIATIONS SUR LE MÊME T’AIME written by Serge Gainsbourg.
In 1992, Jean-Paul Goude imagined her as a “bird of paradise”, spawning between Vanessa, Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld a lasting artistic and sentimental relationship.
She came back in front of the camera in the film ELISA by Jean Becker in 1995 alongside Gérard Depardieu. After UNE CHANCE SUR DEUX, she played under the direction of Patrice Leconte in LA FILLE SUR LE PONT for which she was nominated for a César Award for the Best Actress.
After having starred in Serge Frydman’s MON ANGE and Guillaume Nicloux’s LA CLE, she attracted considerable attention alongside Romain Duris in L’ARNACOEUR by Pascal Chaumeil in 2010. The following year, she worked with the singer, M, lending her voice to Lucille in the animation movie, UN MONSTRE A PARIS.
Vanessa Paradis continues both her career as a singer and as an actress. She has played in numerous films including CAFÉ DE FLORE by Jean-Marc Vallée, JE ME SUIS FAIT TOUT PETIT by Cécilia Rouaud, CORNOUAILLES by Anne Le Ny, FADING GIGOLO by John Turturro and SOUS LES JUPES DES FILLES by Audrey Dana.
Over the past year, she has been seen in FROST by Sharunas Bartas, MARYLINE by Guillaume Gallienne, and CHIEN by Samuel Benchetrit. In September she will be starring in Cécilia Rouaud’s, new film, EN FAMILLE.
Vanessa Paradis plays the leading role in Yann Gonzalez’s second full-length feature, UN COUTEAU DANS LE CŒUR selected in official competition at the Cannes Film Festival.