What is obsession if not a passion turned awry? An all-consuming desire which, whether temporarily consummated or not, leads only to an unerring, repetitive cycle of destruction? Such is the beating heart of Yann Gonzalez’s debut short film By The Kiss in which a young woman (played by Knife + Heart’s Kate Moran) has a succession of fleeting connections with a series of strangers. With each, she shares an embrace; they become locked in a passionate kiss, before each stranger leaves, only to be replaced shortly by another. After each encounter, the woman looks increasingly distressed. The cycle repeats. The ecstasy heightens, but so too does the devastation. Eros and Thanatos dance their seductive pas de deux of countless little deaths.
The defining motif of Gonzalez’s work is that of entwined young lovers – their lips and bodies locked together in the compulsion of lustful physical connection – but also the violent destruction that seems a predetermined consequence of these trysts. Oftentimes in his work what is assumed to be real is shown to be play: the revealing of the proscenium or the camera viewfinder offering relief from the intensity of the emotions. But no such catharsis comes here; instead, we are firmly in the position of voyeurs, passive onlookers drawn to the hit of another’s heightened state of passion, but also unable to look away when that rapture turns into desolation. If we are choosing to intrude into her personal moments of pleasure, then so too are we forced to endure with her what ought to be her very private pain.
Onscreen, the act of kissing is an essential part of the notion of the Hollywood Ending, the image reassuringly irising out on formerly quarrelsome lovers finally reunited. But at what point does spectatorial vicariousness turn into a lascivious intrusion? In cinema’s infancy, Thomas Edison’s eighteen second The Kiss was deemed improper for public consumption; Gonzalez’s considerably more outré oeuvre invites similar questions about the subconsciously prurient desires that cinemagoing arouses. As we, as an audience, filter out of auditoria and slip back into the mildness of our everyday lives, have we been fully sated or will our own obsession pull us back for more?
Encounters Film Festival - the UK’s leading platform for new and emerging filmmaking talent – has screened a number of Gonzalez’s shorts over the years, including By The Kiss back in 2006. We are delighted to partner with Film Feels: Obsession to celebrate the release of his latest feature by returning to where it all began with these special screenings of Knife + Heart accompanied with By The Kiss at venues across Bristol in July.