Film: Amer **
Release date: 31st January 2011Running time: 90 mins
Director: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani
Starring: Bianca Maria D'Amato, Cassandra Foret, Delphine Brual, Harry Cleven, Marie Bos
Studio: Anchor Bay
Reviewer: Adam Wing
I love film; it’s an art form capable of touching almost anybody. You’ll never find me at the ballet, or heading down to the Tate Modern for the latest art exhibition, because some art forms are more accessible than others. Everybody has their own opinion on what art is, but when does a movie stop being a movie? Perhaps we should ask Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani. Amer is an experience hard to describe - I’m not even sure how to categorize it, but it’s definitely an experience. There’s a strong Giallo connection but then, Amer isn’t really Giallo at all.
70s classics by directors such as Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento and Mario Bava are an obvious influence, films characterized by excessive bloodletting, stylish camerawork and unusual musical arrangements. Amer has all of these things in abundance. They also combine slasher style horror with Italy’s longstanding tradition of opera, and on that particular playing field, Amer is certainly ahead on points.
Of course, we shouldn’t forget the obligatory sex and nudity, but in the case of Amer, you can’t have your cake and eat it. That’s not to say Amer doesn’t get down and dirty, if anything, Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s striking feature length debut is a ninety minute torment of titillation and tease. Forget words, where we’re going we don’t need words. Here’s a film that revels in mood and imposing atmosphere. So when does a movie stop being a movie, and if you had the choice, would you choose theatre over ballet? I guess there’s only one way to find out.
The movie is divided into three segments. The first chapter finds us in a large mansion, following a young girl through rooms and hallways. Her mother is dressed in mourning black and a creepy old man lies dead in one of the rooms. If that’s not strange enough, the young girl is stalked continuously by a monstrous figure cloaked in darkness. It’s the first of three key moments, all of them sensual, that help to define Ana's life. Her carnal search sways between reality and coloured fantasies becoming more and more oppressive as the film goes on. That’s what it says here anyway.
The plot is straightforward enough - a black laced hand prevents her from screaming. That’s pretty much it for part one. If you think the first chapter is a little too simplistic, wait ’til you get a load of the remaining segments. Part two finds Ana a few years down the line, as the wind lifts her dress and caresses her thighs. Part three edges towards horror and a bathtub rendezvous with a razor blade. Everything she experiences, she experiences to the fullest and there’s no point trying to separate reality from fantasy, Amer is a perplexing experience from start to finish. There’s that word again... experience.
The first chapter is knee-deep it atmosphere, and credit to Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, their use of colour, camerawork and sound design is staggeringly effective. There’s precious little dialogue throughout, but when it comes to making a first impression, Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani know how to get a viewers attention. The problem for me is - I just don’t get it. I like my films a little left of centre, but when a ‘movie’ stray’s this far off course, it runs the risk of losing its way. Amer held my interest for around twenty minutes, but the lack of plot, characterisation and substance left me feeling cold. I’m not convinced a film dedicated to mood and atmosphere is designed to do that.
In part two we follow Ana down a street with her mother, she meets a boy with a ball, some grown men on motorcycles, and all the time her dress flirts with them in the breeze. It’s a scene designed to evoke danger, and once again the use of sound is encouraging, but once again I found myself bemused by it all. In the third segment she is a fully grown woman, returning to the house of her childhood which has long been abandoned. But the figure in black that haunted her as a child does not sleep, and Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani are more than happy to bring on the icky. Razor blades, bathtubs, lots of bloody close-ups, presented in the same tub-thumping style as previous installments. None of it makes a lick of sense, at least on first viewing, and I’m not convinced that Amer is the kind of film you'll return to time and time again.
It’s a movie going experience you’ll either love or loathe, but no matter which side of the fence you sit on, there’s more than enough to recommend. The imagery is sublime, the sound design infectious, and Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani hit the right notes of sensual, scary, haunting and beautiful. Unfortunately the whole experience left me cold, sound and vision should amplify a viewing experience, not replace it. In fact, I’m almost temped to use the word pretentious.
Amer is a film student’s wet dream, but I’m not a film student, I just love watching movies. Some critics will claim that I dislike the film because I don’t understand it, and they’ll be right. I don’t get it at all. Others will agree that Amer is a short film stretched way beyond the point of breaking, a ‘movie’ that drowns in stylish editing and sound design, but fails to reward the viewer for their tolerance.
I’m not saying it won’t find an audience, there’s a lot to appreciate here, I’m just not convinced there’s much to enjoy. Amer left me cold, drained and emotionless – I have a girlfriend for that. I go to the movies to be entertained.