Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Staring Cassandra Forêt
France and Belgium
Amer is a 2009 Belgian-French co-production which comes to us from the husband and wife director team of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Though often named as one of the forerunners of the “neo-giallo” movement which has emerged in recent years, the film plays not like a tribute to the 70s proto-slasher movement and more like the best of Argento and Bava filtered through a nightmarish acid trip. What I really commend Cattet and Forzani for doing here is taking their melting pot of influences and using them to create something truly fresh, showing off their talents as film makers in the process. For all intents and purposes, Amer represents an avant garde approach to genre film-making; from its unconventional narrative structure, suffocating sound design, and absolute minimum of dialogue throughout the running time.
Amer unfolds across three parts which chronicle the sexual development of a young woman, Ana, on the French Rivera. The first part, set during her childhood, is a series of nightmarish set-pieces which plays like a tribute to the ‘Drop of Water’ segment of Mario Bava’s ‘Black Sabbath’, in which she attempts to steal an antique pocket watch from the fingers of her grandfathers corpse. This sequence culminates with her walking in on her parents having sex, which then shifts into the second part of the film. Here, a teenage Ana visits the local village, and her blossoming femininity attracts the attentions of the local males. In the final, and most conventionally Giallo, of the three parts, an older Ana returns to her childhood home from the first segment, where she is stalked by a switch-blade wielding killer.
Whilst I have no doubt that Cattet and Forzani have the skills to make a more traditional horror flim, and a highly entertaining one at that, what they have opted for here is a damn sight more memorable for bearing little resemblance to any other film in the genre. It isn’t for everyone. Those who prefer a more conventional approach to Horror might be put off by the slow pace, the near total lack of dialogue, and the ambiguity presented in every shot. However, for those more inclined, the combination of these elements with some gorgeous cinematography, the beautiful French locations, and a soundtrack combing some choice cuts from Morricone, Nicolai, and Cipriani, combine to create a world that is as haunting as is beautiful.
Everywhere Ana goes men are starring at her, and the film creates the impression someone could leap out and attack her at any moment. The film does a fantastic job at putting at making us identify with Ana, feeling the vulnerability of the female form in a suffocatingly male dominated world, a theme that bubbles underneath the surface of just about every Giallo and Slasher film ever made. In distilling the genre down to such a minimalistic form, Cattet and Forzani get at the beating heart of the uneasy relationship Horror continues to have with female sexuality, and craft a vivid fever of sexual awakening which is as beautiful as it is mind-bending. The result is what might have happened if Argento in the early 70’s had crossed over from the Grindhouse into full Arthouse, or maybe if Stanley Kubrick had been a genre film maker in Italy at the same time.