Name: Yann Gonzalez
Birth Place: Nice, France
Notable films: You Are The Night (2013), Islands (2017), Un Couteau Dans Le Coeur/Knife+Heart (2018)
When did you know you were queer? When did you come out?
Yann Gonzalez: I think I got my first hints when I was 8 or 9. I was always holding the hands of my best friends, Raphaël and Samuel, because to me it was something super natural. But one day my mom told me that boys couldn’t do that because it was “a homo thing”. It broke my heart and made me understand that I was different.
I came out to my parents much later, around 20, when my nosy mom –again!- found a letter my gay best friend had sent me with a fun and explicit collage of gay porn VHS covers. She called me on the phone because I was in Paris and she was in the south of France and she couldn’t stop crying. It was super hard to swallow for her and I was devastated, myself.
Now she’s cool about it and she’s so supportive with my films, but gosh it took some time to educate my family!!
How did you get into filmmaking? How did your brother Anthony (of M83) come to be involved in your soundtracks?
YG: I’ve always been passionate about film. I was a movie buff from a very young age, and in junior high I met some of the coolest guys and girls with whom I could share my obsession. We were gathering in secret, watching some VHS of The Evil Dead, Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, Richard Kern’s shorts or Pasolini’s Salo. My brother [Anthony Gonzalez of the band M83] and his friends did the same thing behind our backs – haha.
So Anthony and I grew up with the same disturbing images in mind. It was obvious to me that I had to make films and since I’m a big fan of my brother’s music, it was a natural process for us to collaborate.
As a horror creator, what is it about horror that attracts you?
YG: Because they magnify and glorify the crazy, feverish and most forbidden fantasies. Because they’re made of dreams –and nightmares. Because they help us escape our despicable society. Because they spit on the norm; they see beauty in deviance and, in doing so, they make us proud of being freaks.
As a teenage gay boy dealing with my sexuality, I found as much comfort in horror films as I did in queer films.
What films (queer or not) have made a significant impact on you and your work? In what way?
YG: Let’s keep it with the queer ones, otherwise it would be endless ☺
I would say all the films I discovered in the 90s as a teenager, from Cyril Collard’s Savage Nights to Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, from Catherine Corsini’s Les Amoureux to Pasolini’s or Gérard Blain’s films. But if I had to chose one I was completely obsessed with, it would be without a doubt Gregg Araki’s Nowhere. I was 20 when it was released in France and I went to see it 5 times at least. I wanted to live inside this film, to be one of those cool, pansexual teenagers. I was in love with Nathan Bexton and with Slowdive’s Avalyn 2, which played during the opening sequence.
I’m still a sucker for Nowhere, I showed it to all my friends and boyfriends.
You’re a French filmmaker, so your experience of getting films off the ground may be completely different from other directors in this showcase. How progressive or welcoming do you think the industry is for queer creators right now?
YG: The French industry is still considering queer filmmakers “mavericks”, although we’ve got some very successful and out of the closet auteurs such as Céline Sciamma and François Ozon. But when it comes to work with smaller budgets and weirder plots, it’s very difficult to raise some money.
It took us almost two years to complete the budget of Knife+Heart despite the fact I was working with a famous producer, Charles Gillibert. We got some amazing partners right from the start such as Arte TV channel and Canal+, but the fact that the project tried to deal with genre puzzled most of the state’s grants commissions.
Anyway I feel lucky at the end because I’m not sure I would have been able to make this film in another country.
As Trace Thurman and I discussed on our Horror Queers podcast, Knife+Heart feels both political and personal. I know Anne and Loïs are inspired by real people, but how much of the film is informed by your own experiences? Does your sexuality normally play a part in your film practice?
YG: I guess my sexuality plays a big part in all my films, but also the way I love or how I fantasize about love.
Knife+Heart deals with the violence of love, its intensity, those painful feelings of loving someone so much that you’re about to burst and you don’t understand why it’s not reciprocated. I think the relationship between Anne and Loïs comes from my teenage years, those first girls and boys that I was so in love with that I didn’t understand why they didn’t love me in return. I thought there was so much power in my heart, something almost magical that could put a spell on my objects of desire and make them mine. But life is unfair, it rarely works this way.
Anne is probably inspired by my own mourning of love, when passion is eating your soul and turns into a deep melancholy – or a dangerous rage in the case of Anne.
Do you subscribe to queer readings of your films?
YG: Of course! They are the best!! And I’ve been butchered by so many stupid old straight male critics in France that it was such a relief to be more understood by queer people – especially in the US.
Knife+Heart is now readily available on video on demand, BluRay and streaming in North America. Have you had the chance to interact with the film’s many queer horror fans? What has that experience been like?
YG: I’ve met some cool queer people in France and even more in the US. There was even a sex party in NY to celebrate the release of the film, but I was feeling awkward in briefs and I didn’t fuck with anybody. I should have taken more drugs that night – haha. Next time hopefully!
It’s been a long journey getting Knife + Heart made, its Cannes debut and then touring all of the festivals. What’s next for you?
YG: I’m working on the screenplay of a small budget French film that I’d like to shoot next year and I’m also starting to think of a larger scale genre film in English language.
I’m super excited with something I bumped into a few weeks ago, so we’ll see if it blooms in the right way!
Sadly Yann doesn’t have social media!