Amer (2009)

A study of sound, color and focus.  The creak of a leather coat or gloves.  The sound a comb makes when you run your fingers over its teeth.  AMER is French for bitter and it proves to be a meditative exploration of bitterness and isolation.  Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani do so with a visually stunning production that is almost devoid of dialogue.  AMER explores the dangers of watching, close relation of pain to pleasure and the eroticism of dying.  The French euphemism for orgasm is la petite mort which translates to “the little death.”

Ana is a young girl who lives in a spacious house with two generations of her family.  Her grandmother behaves in a wraithlike fashion and always seems to be menacing the child.  Her parents are indifferent at best, in the case of her father; and resentful at worst as the mother seems to loathe her daughter.

Ana is a curious child and seems to have a rich interior life that would normally thrive in a sprawling empty house.  Sadly Ana’s childhood is one of fear and uncertainty.  Her grandfather lies dead or dying in an upstairs bedroom and she may have heard the murder or at least abuse of his corpse while lying under the bed.  She continually has to hide from her menacing grandmother and manages to keep things mostly together until a wonderful set piece where her psyche is shattered as she walks in on her parents at their moment of orgasm.

The second act follows adolescent Ana through an afternoon in town with her mother.  She is blossoming into an attractive girl who is continually leered at by store clerks, a biker gang, young boys and the camera alike.  Ana teases and turns away; she sneers at the lecherous while pouting at the young.  She seduces an entire gang of bikers with a sultry strut while they eyebang her.  All the while chewing on her own hair until her mother disciplines her.  She exudes her sexuality knowingly yet unwillingly while the camera objectifies her and makes the viewer much an accomplice as another formative chapter of her young life comes to a close.

The adult Ana is as mentally troubled as she is hot…that is very.  Marie Bos is the archetypical gialli heroine/victim, a Eurogoddess in almost every sense it is as though she walked into frame right off of a Milan runway.  She is as paranoid as anyone can be she sees threatening gazes from every man she encounters.  Something as simple as taking trash out to the garbage truck becomes an ordeal and a difficult and awkward social encounter.  She returns to her childhood home.  Perhaps she is hoping to piece together what shattered as a youth.  Maybe she has come back as a fitting book end that will allow her life to end where it began?  The motivations are never revealed.

This is considered a giallo, and it is truly an homage to the genre, yet there is only one murder.  Maybe. And it plays it to the hilt.  The creaking of leather gloves the glint of the razor’s edge the pursuit and evasion.  The highly eroticized seduction of the shadow as the killer pursues their prey without relent. What AMER lacks in body count it makes up for by focusing on the pleasure of pain.  The killer almost lovingly draws the blade across the victim who seems to acknowledge that pain is the only release they are allowed.   When the kill comes…it is a sensual nightmare of sliced lips, razor grating across teeth and a switchblade piercing a throat.  Not your average giallo by any means. AMER is a psychosexual trip that shows how difficult it is to truly escape the pain of one’s past.The final frames being the only way to bring closure to the preceding story.

In AMER the style is the substance.  Watching from the point of view of the protagonist the story plays out as a deeply meditative relentlessly slow paced surreal work.  Over exposure and color saturation provide for a jarring viewing experience.  Shot in an arte povera manner the director makes much out of little.  Water, salt, and earth play strongly as objects of fetishized interest.  Red, green and blue wash over many of the opening scenes and brightly shot lush exteriors compose the second act.  The third has a dark and cloistered feel.  The house has once again trapped Ana within the confines of its fence.

In true giallo fashion red herrings abound.  Every character is a potential threat to the paranoid Ana.  AMER takes the repetition and menace of the mundane to an extreme and plays on the fear of the ordinary.  It may not be something everyone will enjoy–even giallo fans may be put off by the slow steady pacing and 70 minutes of film before a kill–but it is a stylistic treat for those appreciate a show.

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