Year of production: 2009
UK Release date: 31st January 2011
Distributor: Anchor Bay
Running time: 90 mins
Director: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani
Starring: Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud, Marie Bos, Bianca Maria D’Amato, Harry Cleven
Country of Production: France/Belgium
Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Amer is a French homage to the Italian cinematic genre of giallo. Stemming from the Italian word for yellow, giallo refers to the series of paperback crime, mystery, horror and erotic fiction novels with trademark yellow covers. This unique genre veered towards psychological horror with emphasis on madness, alienation and paranoia; themes explored with graphic vividness in Amer.
Amer follows the three ages of Ana and her encounters with death and sexuality. The first chapter sees Ana as a curious child (Cassandra Forêt) who is haunted by her family’s spectre-like house keeper. During this chapter, she encounters the corpse of her recently deceased grandfather and walks in on her parents engaging in sexual intercourse. There then follows a brief symbolic transition into the second chapter.
This chapter follows Ana as an adolescent (Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud) as she accompanies her mother on an errand to the local hairdressers. After abandoning her mother in the town, she comes across a gang of motorcyclists, before being found and subsequently punished by her mother.
The final episode accompanies Ana as an adult (Marie Bos) as she returns to her childhood home where her strange sexual fantasies and traumatic memories collide with a violent and ambiguous present…
The film itself is notably short, but nevertheless crammed with stylistic visual imagery consisting of sympathetic lighting and colour, extreme close ups and highly sexualized cropped shots. This makes for a disturbing film experience. The transitions between each of Ana’s ages are handled in a highly explorative and sexual way, including close up shots of various body parts, often accompanied by close ups of men to symbolize her sexual awakening. This is also alluded to by the heightened sound of breathing and rough, rasping soundtrack.
Each chapter is dealt with in a very different style. The initial chapter, exploring Ana’s childhood, is obviously of the horror genre, from the veiled, dark figure of the house keeper to the grungy, shadowed set of the house against Hitchcockian flashes of red. Ana’s experience of discovering her grandfather’s corpse reveals occult imagery, such as the ritualistic adornments in his room, a dead bird in his coat pocket and crystallized salt being placed under his bed. This is also the most surreal chapter of the film in terms of lighting and colour, as Ana’s traumatizing experience of witnessing her parents having sex causes the screen to flash from blue to orange to red. All of these fantastical elements combine to create a truly effecting barrage on the senses.
The first chapter may be likened to Guillermo del Torro’s early work in its horrific content, as well as its haunting soundtrack and accentuated sound. This, however, dissipates in the second chapter and we are left with a far more French, rural image of adolescence, akin to Lolita. Whereas the previous chapter deals with Ana’s experience of sexuality in a terrifying way, associating it with death, horror and decay; this chapter is more about adolescent curiosity and naiveté.
While the fear of rape is alluded to through Ana’s disgust at having a lollypop forced into her mouth, and her eventual meeting with the motorcyclists, the only real sexual experience in this chapter is one that is in fact symbolized. A young boy, attempting to kiss Ana, is rejected and she instead follows him outside to watch him play with his football. Both of them then chase the football down a darkened tunnel and out into the light of the town outskirts. The heightened breathing of the two characters as well as the vacillating motion of them as they run, paired with the extreme close ups and physical exertion implies their sexual experience without showing it. Whilst only being alluded to symbolically, this is the only example of an untainted and innocent sexual encounter in the whole film.
The final chapter of the film is the most disturbing. While not openly engaging with the theme of horror as in the first chapter, this time-line deals more with realistic horror and the giallo theme of crime and death. Perhaps the fact that the first chapter is so openly fantastical while the other two chapters are more realistic in their view of horror and fear, is a comment on the traumatizing effect of memory.
Films such as Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou are alluded to through Cattet’s employ of insect imagery and the slicing of various body parts. Homages to Bava and Argento are also unsubtle in their approach.
This is the definition of an art house film and as such warrants more than one watch to truly understand what is happening. The ending is ambiguous, allowing us to draw our own conclusions from the violent imagery and iconic final shot, solidifying the fact that this is a film attempting to elicit an emotional response rather than created of enjoyment.
Despite all of the thought provoking imagery and art house styling, however, it is noteworthy that nothing truly happens within the film. Whilst dealing with Ana’s strange mind, and her experiences of sexuality, we never truly see into her character as we are merely a voyeur. The sexualisation of her character is done through the camera’s eyes, not hers; and we realize quickly that we know nothing about her as a person or character, only what the director wants us to see. This leaves us with a disturbing and voyeuristic feeling at the end of the film that does nothing to quell our curiosity about the strange little life that has just been revealed to us.
This is a film to be analysed for analysis sake. The Freudian influences are obvious and bring out the amateur psychiatrist in the audience, but this is where the mystery ends. Neither can it be said to be entertaining, as the art house style is overly familiar to us through its allusions to greater directors and artists. While this is an interesting exercise in Freudian filmmaking, it is hardly original, and seems to rely on the sexuality and violence of the plot to sell it as meaningful, when it is in fact empty.
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