Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Starring Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibbaud, Marie Bos
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Rather carelessly touted by many as a modern throwback to the Italian giallo genre, Cattet and Forzani’s striking Amer is in fact a heavily artistic investigation of one female’s experience of sexual awakening and maturation from childhood to adult, albeit one constructed via the sensibilities – both visual and tonal – of the great Italian directors of the 1970s… and which ends rather gruesomely.
Said female is protagonist Ana, whom we follow through three distinct acts at different stages of her life – childhood, as a teenager, and as an adult, with a different (yet eerily similar) actress portraying her each time. It would be pertinent at this point to let it be known that the recurring character of Ana is close to the sole facet of Amer that attempts to lead the audience along a narrative path. The three acts, almost vignette-like in their construction, seem designed to appeal to various senses and their effects on Ana as she matures.
The first act features the mysteries and mischievousness of childhood, where the young Ana follows her mysterious, funeral gown-clad grandmother around a sprawling mansion seemingly taken straight from Argento’s Profondo Rosso, before discovering the displayed body of her deceased grandfather ready for his wake. When she takes a piece of jewelery from the body, her subsequent attempt to escape her grandmother sees her witness her parents mid-coitus. From there, Amer switches to an all-out nightmare sequence so fabulously lit and constructed that you could swear it came from a missing reel of Suspiria, complete with the breathy rasps of Ana’s assailant(s).
Once the nightmare is over, things move to Ana’s teenage years where she, and others, begin to awaken to her sexuality. Taking an extreme focus on sound, this second act is perhaps where Amer slows down a little too much but is still nonetheless just as striking. From a sequence of Ana and a boy running after a ball, with their increasing gasps and frantic editing mimicking the sexual act itself, to leering male eyes and a perfectly composed sequence of the entranced Ana seductively drawn to the inherent sexuality in her and others’ bodies through an encounter with a stoically silent biker gang, Amer just keeps continuing to impress.
Finally, we have the last act in which the grown Ana returns to the home where she grew up, only to be stalked by a mysterious black-gloved killer armed with a straight razor. This last section is the only part of the movie that switches to out-and-out giallo styling, and even then it’s only for around 15 minutes of the runtime. It also contains the film’s only offering of actual violence, but the effectiveness is stratospheric. Again, sound plays a huge part, with the image and sound of the razorblade scraping across teeth as it slashes open lips sure to cause involuntary cringing in just about any audience. Further imagery, such as a solitary tear lifted with a blade and placed into the suffering victim’s wounds, is just plain magnificent.
Throughout the entire flick our directing duo have absolutely no qualms in not so much wearing their inspirations on their sleeves as having them tattooed on their foreheads. Indeed, most (if not all) of the musical score and cues in Amer are taken from some of the best of the Italian genre heyday. It’s the fact that they do it so damn well that makes this film the powerhouse that it is. You’ll find pitch-perfect mimicry of Argento, Fulci, Bava and countless more. In fact, the entire thing looks so authentic that you could likely convince a newcomer that this is a modern DVD restoration of a real Italian film from the 70s. It even features a day-for-night sequence more brilliantly replicated than I could ever have expected. So many directors like to think that what they’re making is the next big “throwback”, but nothing you’ve ever seen (save, perhaps, Ti West’s House of the Devil) even comes close to Amer. It wouldn’t be half as successful as it is, though, if it weren’t for the astounding editing. If this film isn’t used as reference material for future film courses, I’ll be flabbergasted.
Know what you’re getting in for, and this film will reward you again and again – but if you’re expecting a body-filled giallo murder mystery, you’ll likely find yourself very quickly confused, disinterested, and upset. Here, the audience is invited to let themselves be absorbed by sights and sounds and, rather than simply watch, to experience the film as remembrance of our own maturation.
Unexpectedly restrained – in fact, for such an erotically charged and sensual film, there is almost a complete lack of nudity – Amer dispenses with exploitation in favour of sheer craft. This is, through and through, an art house film that truly earns the honour of calling itself art. If you’re a devotee of Italian cinema, you owe it to yourself to see it at least once to immerse yourself in its visual depth and sophistication, and marvel at the images that Cattet and Forzani have constructed that even the maestros they’re replicating seem currently unable to do (here’s looking at you, Dario!).
There are so many single moments and sequences in this film that are so brilliantly evocative that they seem to reach to the very core of our sexual being, others to frighten, yet others to disgust, that making an effort to describe even a fraction of them would not only take up an exuberant amount of time (and words), but would also serve to dampen a blind viewing – so I won’t bother. What I will finish up on, though, is that Amer is a film that will be studied and discussed for many years to come – not in terms of narrative, but of physical construction. This is one of those rare films that truly reminds of the evocative power of visuals and serves as a love letter not only to certain filmmakers, but to cinema itself. Let’s just say that if these guys go on to make a full on giallo (which their next film The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears will apparently be) you’ll be able to find me on opening night, front row, with a grin you wouldn’t believe.
Special features on Anchor Bay’s DVD release come in the form of three of the directors’ shorts: Catharsis, Chambre Jaune, and La Fin de Notre Amour; each with their own text intro by the filmmakers. The influence of the giallo genre and Italian cinema on these two is plain to see in the shorts, seeing them populated with leather-gloved killers, straight razors and that defining collision of sensuality and violence. Not to mention an obvious love for still frames – something which also translates to Amer, where the consideration in every single shot just leaps from the screen as though each second were considered as a viable still photo. Next to these is Amer’s teaser and theatrical trailers.
While the shorts are certainly impressive little pieces of work, it would have been nice to have more extras relevant to the main feature — especially considering most viewers will be eager to hear the filmmakers discuss their thoughts and intentions with the work once they have seen it.
4 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5