For Vanessa Paradis, the Cannes Film Festival has always provided a platform for creating “intense, memorable moments” throughout her career.
One of the first times she participated in the event was in 1999, when she got the chance to sing alongside Jeanne Moreau — a performance that’s still remembered with fondness by loyal festival-goers. She served as a member of the jury in 2016, alongside Kirsten Dunst, Valeria Golino and Mads Mikkelsen.
Since then, Paradis made it her goal to return to Cannes with a movie of her own and two years later she’s back to premiere “Knife + Heart” a French drama by Yann Gonzalez, in which she stars alongside Kate Moran and Nicolas Maury.
“It’s such a special moment because the Cannes Film Festival is the biggest window for international cinema,” said Paradis, in an interview at the Terrasse Albane of the JW Marriott Hotel. “There’s nothing bigger than this. It’s so important culturally, even when I was very young I knew that the festival exists and then as a member of the jury, I thought to myself that I’d love to come back here with a movie, in the company of a director and a crew. I was also hoping it would be a movie as special as this one.”
“Knife + Heart,” which made it to the festival’s official selection and is competing for the Palme d’Or, tells the story of Anne, a famous gay porn producer portrayed by Paradis, who sets out to shoot one of her most ambitious projects to date to win back her lover and editor of all her films, Lois. Along the way, the plot thickens and Anne finds herself trapped in a web of violence and murder, as a masked serial killer is out to kill all her actors.
While Paradis acknowledges that this is “not a family movie and it’s not made for everyone,” she says that it is underlined by the universal message of love.
“There’s a lot happening in the story, but what I kept from reading the script and making the movie is that it’s a story screaming for love. No matter where you’re from, what your job or your race is, it doesn’t matter; we are all creatures longing for love and loving love,” the actress added. “I think the movie can talk to all of us. I know that sometimes people can be a little afraid of the subject of the movie or the environment in which it takes place, but if they have an open mind, they would see that even though the characters might be different, we are all really alike when it comes to emotions.”
Playing the character of Anne with all its complexities and the emotional intensity it required made Paradis feel like “the luckiest actress in France.”
“This is the essence of acting, you want to do movies that are this strong and passionate and give you the opportunity to play a character rich in emotions,” she added. “You can have so much fun with it and the key word here is ‘play.’ You’re playing just like when you were a kid and you keep that same spirit.”
The challenge for Paradis was to determine the level of intensity she wanted to embrace through her character and avoid the danger of overdoing it. “It’s like cooking — you have to put the right amount of ingredients and you work on that with your director. Both Yann [Gonzanlez] and I were so animated by the desire to make this movie, we made sure we had fun with it and cried with it, too.”
Getting into character also required a change of look for Paradis, who appears in the movie wearing a peroxide blonde wig, patent leather trenchcoats and bold red boots. “Once I slipped into those red boots I could feel a different attitude, red is the color of confidence. The wig and the makeup were big part of preparing for the movie,” mused Paradis, referring to Blondie as a big inspiration for her character’s look.
During the film’s premiere, Paradis made another sartorial statement by choosing to wear a Chanel gown from the house’s 2009 cruise collection, which had never been worn since it was presented on the catwalk. “When I saw it, I knew that was it. It was so special, it was very much out of a movie and you don’t even know from which era because it’s got so many different influences,” she said of the metallic silver dress, which features ruched overlays and a dramatic, embellished caged bodice.
Attending the premiere with Gonzalez and her fellow crew members made for one of her most rewarding Cannes moments to date, Paradis said. “It was like a reunion a year after the film’s shooting. It reminded me of what a strong, beautiful and deep experience we had. Everyone came together to create something special with a small budget, and it worked wonders.”