An unworldly piece of cinematographic art
We all go through cycles in life. And we also grow and evolve outside these cycles. We leave paths laid out for us, we seek adventure. We also revisit places we came from. In the real world, and in our minds. In a way, this is what Amer is about. It is to me. But as a film, it’s something else.
Amer is a Franco-Belgian co-production and it’s not exactly a Giallo. Amer already screened at some international festivals and many people seem to pass it off as one, but it’s not. It’s an anthology and a trilogy that plays out like an absolute exercise in style. Visually, the film reaches a state of perfection within its own realm. Take any frame from this film, and you will most likely always end up with a perfect picture. As an anthology, Amer consists of three segments – shortfilms, actually – simply placed one after the other. As a trilogy, it shows three cycles of life (and death, if you leave out the second segment) in which both the protagonist and the location are the only returning elements. The protagonist, Ana, mainly provides the red thread running through this film. As a girl growing into a teenager turning into a woman. The location, an old mansion and its exotic surroundings, provide the film’s habitat. Hot & sensual by day, dark & eerie at night. What all themes and subtext to be found in this film, is entirely upto the viewer to interpret. It’s philosophies are carnal & obscure. Luscious & scary. Mesmerizing & compelling. Foreboding & arousing. Erotic & extravagant. Like a dream within a nightmare. Like a beautiful abomination without a head or a tail. Amer does have a point in the end, after the third segment comes to a closure, and it is one that feels as strangely detached from the rest of the film as the film itself is a strange entity on its own. It does not feel as if the film’s makers tried to make sense out of their own film. It merely provides a simple explanation for those who would want one. You will recognize the final point Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet convey to the audience, or at least you should, as it has been done before in other films. Even in one from a director they pay tribute to. But to tell you which film, would spoil the fruits of Amer.
As pointed out, this movie has to be viewed – amongst other things – as a homage. I will not mention the titles of all the films that seem to have inspired Amer, as part of the experience is to discover those yourself. The first segment portrays Ana as a child and contains even a minimal amount of dialogue (which voids to nothing later on in the film). This first part has a great, constant tension. The horrific imagery has a powerful impact and makes this easily the scariest segment out of the lot. At least one moment should have you jumping from your seat. Aside from anything else, this opening segment is one big, respectful tip of the hat to the oeuvre of Italian gothic horror maestro Mario Bava. Especially one piece of film in particular, but my lips remain sealed about this.
The second installment feels like a homage to the Japanese pinky violence films, but this is arguably pretty hard to sense. Let alone pinpoint certain films it references to. It presents Ana as a teenager developing a blooming, sexual awareness, while at the same time feeling the urge to free herself from her overly protective mother. A surreal & hot experience as well as voyeuristic & uncomfortable, and one that is the most out of the three nothing more than style over substance. Regarding tones, feel & visuals, this segment finds it perfect place in between the other two, as those are often drenched in darkness & gloom while the second part shines and oozes warmth. But substantially, it is the least interesting segment and suffers a bit from repetitive tediousness.
The last segment, esthetically speaking, may just be Giallo in its purest, most vivid form. But again, not exactly a classic example, as it features little plot (let alone a convoluted murder mystery, as we are used to) and no dialogues. It has Ana, a grown woman now, returning to the mansion where she grew up. It is now a rundown place and the perfect setting to pay tribute to that other master of Italian horror, Dario Argento. This third segment becomes the most interesting as it vaguely incorporates some sort of plot, which essentially boils down to nothing more than a twist. To say more about it, would reveal too much. But I can say that I saw it coming, though. I’m sure I’ll not be the only one who can predict it, but it all depends on how well you’re familiar with the subject matter. Nevertheless it holds the attention of the viewer very well. It’s also the nastiest part of the film, and the scarce bloodlettings echo the best works of Lucio Fulci (as well as winking to Spanish master of surreal macabre Luis Buñuel)
My only form of disappointment comes from the fact that I was perhaps being a bit too attentive during the film’s first segment. There are some images and gimmicks I expected to return in the final act, offering some sort of symbolic meaning that would tie up loose ends from Ana’s childhood. But no events or themes reoccured, really. And if something was shown again, it had no meaning. But then again, this film is not really out to tell a story. One more funny thing I should comment on… If there ever should be such a thing as a limit to how many close-up shots of people’s eyes you may put in one movie, then surely our directing duo Forzani & Cattet did not stick to it. Amer had me thinking that there should be a rule for this, because there’s only so many close shots of eyes you can put in one and the same film, right? As far as the sound design goes, I’m very much in favor of how Forzani & Cattet handled things. They put some heart and thought into the sound effects and clearly avoided resorting to all too popular contemporary clichés. I can be very brief about the cast, since there are no real dialogues in this film. All actors and actresses looked the part. Good casting and good directing.
If it’s not clear already, Amer is all about style, mood and atmosphere. Rules of conventional filmmaking do not apply on this film. Amer bridges the gap between experimental films and narrative features. It found its exact place between those two. Exact, because it doesn’t meander, feels very confidently made and turns out a very consistent audio-visual experience in the end. A stunning, wonderful piece of suggestive cinema that feels genuinely unique. And because of this, Amer is not for all tastes. It has nothing to do with being a good or a bad film, nor does it anticipate on the intelligence of the viewer. It is the exact opposite of a pretentious film. It never wants to be something you don’t understand. It’s not like David Lynch. Amer generously invites you to taste it. Ana – the teenager, the adult – seductively invites you to taste her. The only way to do this, and to enter this film, is to have an open mind and set your senses sharp first. Prepare yourself for an unconventional movie. One that both emphazises familiar characteristics and epitomizes general esthetics of both Italian and Japanese 70′s genre cinema in a symbiosis of stylistic trademarks, visual narratives and splendid musical enhancements. If you can’t tune into this film on all these levels, Amer will surely come across as a failure. But if you expect a piece of art instead of a film, you will do just fine. It’s not what you want from it, it’s what Amer wants to show you.