Hello. AsimovLives here, and today I bring you a review of a very peculiar horror film, a true love letter to the giallos of the likes of Dario Argento and other Italian horror maestros. This review was first published on Talkbacker, but I decided to republished it at Supernaughts for the October horror month.
The film in question is…
Hypotethical subtitle: I Heart Argento.
Partners in crime:
Directors/writers: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Cinematography: Manuel Dacosse
Editor: Bernard Beets
Cast: Marie Bos, Delphine Brual, Harry Cleven, Bianca Maria D’Amato, Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud, Bernard Marbaix, Jean-Michel Vovk
The Mysterious Case of the Dreadful Synopsis of Death:
The film is divided in 3 parts, each belonging to a period of Ana’s live, all set in her palatial family house at the French Riviera.
Ana is a child of 10 or so. There’s tension in the palatial family house she arrived at with her mother and father. Some very old man is dying, possibly her grandfather. Ana’s Italian mother, who seems much stressed with the whole situation, is not welcoming to Ana’s inquisitorial curiosity over the preceding. We discover that Ana is hyper-sensorial, all her senses are extremely acute, more than normal in an human being, and they overwhelm all her thoughts and actions. In her bedroom she discovers salt poured under her bed, a practice to ward off witches. In an adjacent room a cloaked figure seems to take residence, who is confronted by a very angry Ana’s mother about finding numerous magic superstitious objects around the house. The figure takes an interest in Ana, spies her and tries to invade her room, with Ana constantly finding ways to hide from her gaze and locking herself in her room. After diner Ana takes an interest in the dying man and his pocket watch and steals it from him, not without breaking one of his fingers from his tight grip with a crucifix first.
She’s caught by the cloaked figure and Ana runs to her parents who she discovers in the act of sex. Shocked, Ana hides in her room. Lying in bed, she notices there’s a water from a leak dripping on her bed, she tries to locate the source and it seems something animalistic is living in her room’s ceiling. The cloaked figure does another attempt at entering Ana’s room. She escapes through her balcony door, reaches the dying man’s room to return the watch, but is attacked by the cloaked figure and faints. Her gentle father awakes her, worried for her well-being, while her mother looks at her very sternly.
Ana is an adolescent. Her mother takes her to a walk to the near town. Her mother is overbearing on her and Ana tries every little trick to make small rebellious gestures against her mother. There doesn’t seem to be much love between them, more of a relationship of dominance and power plays over one another. The two are the subject of the gaze of a few men, which perks the curiosity of Ana as she sees her mother react both with both discomfort and arousal. Reaching the town, they go to a general store where is also the local hairdresser.
Ana’s mother gets a hair wash while Ana is waiting, bored out of her skull. A boy a bit younger than her tries to flirt with her, first by making a direct pass and then by trying to impress her with his football playing skills. Ana gets fed up with him and kicks the ball down the street and then follows it to kick it even further away from the kid. The two run after the ball and in their running competition they almost connect, but when the kid gets the ball he notices a gang of bikers and runs away. But Ana, instead of running away, makes a catwalk in front of the observing bikers, her fear turned into a desire for calling attention to her own blooming sexuality. The sexual tension reaches a boiling point, as her mother shows up and slaps her for her insubordination. Her dominance re-established, the mother makes Ana carry the groceries back home and walks ahead, with a subdued Ana behind.
Ana is a full grown adult. She arrives at her family house’s town. The weather is extremely hot and she already arrived stressed by her hyper-sensitivity to other people’s presences in the communal train. She hires a taxi driver to take her and her luggage home. The trip is consumed by Ana’s growing paranoia caused by the heat and her perceived invasive attentions of the taxi driver to her. At home, we realize the house has been deserted for a long time. It’s implied that Ana has not returned for quite some time and the disarray in the house suggest that it had long been abandoned by the family and was left to her as inheritance. The trip to the house alone is a bombardment of sensations to Ana.
There’s no electricity so Ana has to make do with candles for light. Ana feels paranoid; it seems everything in the house is looking at her, paintings, statues. To the point she starts to suspect about a possible presence in the house and constantly looks out the balcony, as if expecting the taxi driver to return. She takes a bath and enters into a reverie where she almost drowns, dreaming somebody pushed her under the water. While at sleep, Ana is visited by a shaving razor welding gloved figure. Ana awakes and tries to escape, but is overpowered and captured. The taxi driver arrives and witnesses the gloved figure. He looks transfixed and scared, tries to help out Ana but is attacked. The gloved figure cuts up the taxi driver up in a prolonged teasing torture with sexual connotations until he kills him. Ana awakes and sees herself wearing the gloves and the razor in her hand and the dead taxi driver at her feet, in shock she raises up to flee but sees the silhouette of a tall man looking down at her. She tries to escape but no matter how much she runs her pursuer is always ahead of her. Tired and with her pursuer in front of her, she makes for a desperate last attack…
The Black Cat of the Hidden Opinion of the Attic of Blood.
I must confess I’m a bit of a late arrival to the giallo genre. Mostly, my knowledge of the genre centers on the works of Dario Argento. Well, it turns out I don’t need much more than that to recognize the references from Argento’s movies in the film Amer. If the usual giallos are films that are often accused of putting visual style over story logic or substance, then with Amer we have here a super-giallo, where the story literally is nothing more than a device to fill a film from start to finish with giallo imagery. The vast majority comes from Argento’s work, it seems to me.
The first part of the story is a clear homage to Suspiria, from the imagery to the shots composition, to many visuals and sound callbacks, and even from the mannerisms of the acting, with many implications of something supernatural going on.
The second part plays like a super-stylization of the coming-of-age stories so common in Italian and French cinema made in the 60s and 70s. The 3rd part is a murder giallo like Tenebrae but even more stripped down than the usual giallo. A pattern emerges. For Amer is exactly that, a stripped down giallo reduced to images and sound, with minimal highly stylized acting and no information whatsoever about the background or the situation the main character is living in. The music of the film is directly taken from giallos and coming-of-age comedies of the 60s and 70s. No original music was composed for the film.
The end result is a clear homage, a love letter to the giallo genre. But it’s one for the most hardcore of fans. And even those might find the movie too precious. It’s little more than an exercise in style, one could say. But dammit if it doesn’t look good. The camera work has to be seen to be believed. Often using very close shots of Ana’s anatomy and with a strange heightened use of sound effects, all to portrait Ana’s hyper-senses.
And it’s this element to Ana that is behind the hyper-stylization of the film. We get the notion that Ana has always been so overwhelmed all her live by her hyper-sensitivity that he barely managed to construct a personality for herself. She seems always to be only half-formed. In her childhood, her hyper-awareness made her childhood a non-stop horror story where her senses combined with a childish imagination sees the world as dominated by dark figures and evil magic. Her adolescence was one of shock between her desire to explore her sensual feelings and her domineering disciplinarian of a mother. Her adulthood is dominated by her uncomfortable feelings in being in close proximity with others, especially men, and her discomfort by the gaze of men. It’s as if the movie wants to out the viewer in the skin of a woman who finds discomfort in being gazed. If this is what a woman in that position feels like, then mission accomplished. Well, one of the directors is female. There could be something to it.
This is film dominated by a female point of view. Everything in this movie is viewed in the feminine. But there is no feminist agenda here, as even the feminine viewpoint seems askew. Ana herself shows signs of being a difficult person even as a child, stubborn and self-entitled. One sequence where we see her take the cab drive to her family home, we see what seems to be a rude cab driver took too long to acknowledge her and let her in the cab and take her baggage to the taxi trunk. But is the taxi driver being deliberately a hard-ass, or is it a representation of Ana’s sense of entitlement that everything and everybody is there for her immediate gratification? Certainly somebody who lived her whole life being bombarded by sensory over-stimulation would take even the smallest of pauses in others has unbearable waits and insults to her patience.
Is that what is happening in the movie? To tell you the truth, I’m not entirely sure. Each viewer will have to take his own conclusions, the film offers no explanations. It just shows, the rest is left to the viewer. It’s obvious the filmmakers have a point and an intention, but they don’t open up about what it is. The last segment of the movie, with the adult Ana, the film goes overdrive with the possibility that Ana is an unreliable point of view character. Is Ana truly suffering the attacks of a murderer, or is she experiencing a massive case of dissociative identity disorder? It’s up to you the viewer to decide, the movie leaves it ambiguous from start to the end. Where in a traditional giallo that could be a plot hole, in Amer it is the plot.
I hope you liked those music cues I shared above. They are by order of posting:
La coda dello scorpione – seq. 1 Written by Bruno Nicolai
La polizia chiede aiuto Written by Stelvio Cipriani
Un uomo si è dimesso Written by Ennio Morricone
La polizia ha le mani legate Written by Stelvio Cipriani
La polizia sta a guardare Written by Stelvio Cipriani
This is the film’s trailer. It doesn’t lie in the slightest about what this movie is like:
One interesting element in the film is that the whole story seems to exist in a stasis of time. While we see something like 3 decades in the life of the protagonist, all the events have the look of happening in the same decade. And there seems to be something deliberate about it. The clothing’s fashions can be either from the 60s to the late 80s, while the cars are all 90s models. One could say the entire movie conspires to give a sense of an altered time.
I already referred to it before, but it bears repeating: Visually this movie is beautiful to look at, almost beyond description. The camera framing is precise to an almost unbelievable level. But most notorious of all is the color scheme. This film takes its visual cues from Argento’s films like Suspiria and Inferno. Remember how extreme the visual styles of those two movies look like? Amer takes them to up to 11. More Argento than Argento. Many fans of Dario Argento have grown a bit disappointed by what they see as his lesser inspired work of recent years. And gone seems to be his visual bravado of old. Well, if you feel nostalgic, you can check out Amer to see what fans of his works will do by using the old master’s style. And it’s something even more radical than what Argento even dared to do, even in such a surreal work like Inferno. If you desire a bit of the strange and want to experience an overdose of giallo, there’s Amer for you.
The writers-directors of Amer, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, have already released another giallo themed film called L’Etrange Couleur Des Larmes De Ton Corps, translated as The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013).
Ah, the French of the title, I forgot to mention, these directors are Belgians. Yeah, a giallo film made by European fans of the genre who go to 11 in their homaging. That should say a lot already! As I’m relatively new to the giallo genre, I’m slowly discovering the jewels of the genre. Mostly I have come to know the films of Dario Argento, especially his better known and his classics. Maybe my newbie nature regarding the genre gives me an interest and enjoyment of Amer that others more knowledgeable might find parodic (the eagerness of the new arrival, if you will), or they might simply love it for the affectionate loving homage the film is. Can’t imagine what this movie might look like to anybody who has no interest in the giallos! It would be fun asking that to one of them.
Here’s a short video to give you an idea what this movie is like, better then just showing static images:
Quite something, isn’t it?
As always, thank you for reading.
This is AsmovLives, signing off. Be well.