What exactly is the giallo ?

A genre between hemoglobin, thriller and eroticism

While the masterpiece of Dario Argento Suspiria comes out again in theaters, and the filmmaker Yann Gonzalez proposes a modernized and queer version with Knife + Heart (Un couteau dans le coeur).

By Bruno Icher

During a strange traffic jam phenomenon, this early summer is tinged with a garish blazing yellow Italian accents. The giallo, an erotico-detective fire of the 1970s that consecrated Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi and many others to the firmament of thrill-seekers, is indeed experiencing a cheerful renewal with, coincidence or symptom, a accumulation of films claiming various titles of its kind.

June 27’s week offers the simultaneous releases of Suspiria, Dario Argento’s classic discovered in 1977, and Knife + Heart of Yann Gonzalez whose echoes at the last Cannes Film Festival revealed that he drew his sources of inspiration in this popular cinema whose bad taste, at its peak, kept him at a respectable distance from the Croisette and all the festivals of the world.

Suspiria the beautiful film’s restoration, even if the idolaters of Technicolor do not quite find the original’s heady grain, is an excellent opportunity to discover or watch again this modern gothic monument, especially on big screen, before comes Luca Guadagnino’s remake, director of Call Me By Your Name, whose release is scheduled for November 7th.

On his side, Knife + Heart (Un couteau dans le cœur) divided the critic at the Cannes Film Festival but it would be doubly unfair to snub this modern and generous variation. First because the movie borrows all the codes of the giallo: the big bang of primary colors, the use of the rigorous neurotic arsenal (gloves, leather, latex, mask games, erotic objects and, of course, the combination of the sharp object and blood more red than ever). Then, because the script offers a flawless curveball that the genre has used many times. Such as Tenebre of Dario Argentino, in which a famous American crime writer (Anthony Franciosa), who is visiting Italy, is investigating a serial killer who stuffs pages of his books in mouths of his victims while cutting them into slices with a razor barber. A nightmare where the author finds himself in the character of his own novels…

In Gonzalez’s cinema, who took care to put his action in the heart of the 70’s, it is a producer of gay porn movies (Vanessa Paradis), in love with the editor of her films (Kate Moran, see our interview), who is living a similar situation since someone is killing one by one, and of course with a knife, actors and technicians of her team. Gonzalez doesn’t fall into parody or easy irony to say all his affection to an inventive and sensual cinema, the antithesis of a cinema padlocked to naturalism.

Yet, it is not so much in this tribute that lies the main interest of the film. Giallo, like almost all the cinemas of exploitation, was exclusively a matter of heterosexual males taking a great pleasure, on the screen as in the room, to witness the thousand sufferings inflicted on a pretty women in distress. In 2010, two strangers made their first feature film wich also used the potting soil of giallo as the foundation of their cinema. That was Amer by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forlani who, later, would directed L’Étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps and, recently, Laissez bronzer les cadavres from the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette. In this first film, more giallo than all the Italian classics together, the point of view was the one of a woman, first and spectacular attempt to modernize the matter while drawing with delight in the emotions of the past. With Gonzalez, almost all characters are gay, lesbian or bi… In short, queer. And playing with the codes of a popular genre like giallo also amounts to claiming the genre change of cinema. In order to remember, in a joyful, erudite and entertaining way, that desire in cinema definitely concerns us all.

Knife + Heart (Un couteau dans le cœur), in theaters June 27th \ Dario Argento retrospective in six restored films from June 27 \ Suspiria (2018), November 7th \ Brian De Palma retrospective at the Cinémathèque until July 4th.

Un couteau dans le cœur
Suspiria (1977)
Suspiria (2018)
Suspiria (1977)
Laissez bronzer les cadavres