Monday, February 21, 2011


Directed by: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani
France/Belgium, 2009
Drama/Horror/ Arthouse, 87min.
Distributed by: Anchor Bay

Where the yanks pay homage to their gore, slasher and grindhouse history, the Europeans create pastiches of their cultural treasures found amongst the alternative genres… such is the case with Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s stunning debut feature Amer!

Amer is without a doubt the most minimalist and stylised approaches to the horror genre ever put on screen. But it’s also one of the richest and most detailed movies in the genre. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of European art house, the mystery of the Italian Gialli, the lighting of Mario Bava, the sensuality of Borowczyk, the daring mise en scène of Jean-Luc Goddard, to name a few will undoubtedly fall in love with the many nods, homage’s and direct referents to the many movies that dominate the visual style, narrative and tone of Amer.

Amer tells the tale of a woman, Ana, in three stages of her life, [Casandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud & Marie Bos] as a child where the death of an elder haunts her and set’s demonic ghosts at play, her adolescences, where budding sexuality torments her as she comes of age and tries to fins her place in her new body, and finally the adult Ana coming to grasps with her memories of childhood and the traumatising experiences that she had.

A fascinating aspect of Amer is the minimalist dialouge. There are no long scenes of dialogue or hefty monologs; instead the restricted discourse pushes forth to suggestive imagery that drives the narrative forth.

Symbolism and metaphors are a huge part of Amer and it’s discourse with the viewer. It’s in the colour schemes, it’s in the imagery, it’s in the unspoken dialogue, it’s in the juxtapositions - it’s everywhere. Where deliberate referents have been created, they in turn spin non-intended into play.

Amer plays like a checklist of your favourite Euro horror titles, especially witin the Gialli sphere. Dario Argento’s Deep Red and Suspria, Sergio Martino’s Torso and All the Colours of the Dark, Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper and many more, are all movies that flash to mind when watching Amer. Something that obviously pleases an old genre hound like myself.
Then there’s that superb soundtrack - what a soundtrack! A mere six tracks make up the entire soundtrack to Amer - Bruno Nicolai’s La Coda Della Scorpione, Ennio Morricone’s Un Uomob Si è Dimesso, A. Celentano/E. Leoni/P. Vivarelli’s Furore and Stelivio Cipriani’s La Polizia Chiede Aiuto, La Polizia Sta A Guardare and La Polizia Ha Le Mani Legate. Six tracks, six classics, six friggin’ masterpieces that give further dimension to Amer and propel the narrative forth when the music bursts through the speakers. You know the movies and that sets you in a certain mind frame. Obviously these tracks are very determined choices to layer out the movie and indicate to what is happening. Each track holds a key to reading the movie. There’s thought behind placing a track from a movie about childhood traumas and sexually charged crimes alongside the images that enhance the experience. It brings an incredible depth to the movie.

Amer is also quite possibly the most sexually explicit movie that you will ever see without actually seeing anything. Yes, without seeing anything. This is a magnificent aspect of Amer, everything is insinuated, everything is amplified by sound and image, but you never see it. The second and final act all ooze sex. You can almost taste it in the air from the atmosphere this movie creates. Theme wise, Amer is all about life, sex and death, which is exactly how the three acts play out.

The first sees Ana coming face to face with death, hence realising the value of her own life. She struggles against the antagonistic forces of the “ghosts” in an attempt to save her own life. The act comes to a harrowing climax – no pun intended – when she interrupts her parents being intimate, their own way of overcoming death. A moment that scars Ana, haunting her for the rest of her life. I will get back to that in a moment.

The second act is the sex act. Ana has become a young woman. All men she encounters look at her from a voyeuristic standing point. We can easily read their minds; they all want her. This is also enhanced though the choices of imagery. Low camera angles, almost peeking up her skirt, the oral symbolism of “sucking on her hair”, wind blowing through her thighs... If you pay attention you will also notice how her mother [Bianca Maria D’Amato] sees her daughter as a threat. She constantly corrects Ana’s ways and when there’s a man on horizon, she evokes all her female attributes, becoming almost a woman and not a mother anymore – a mother with needs, lusts and desires which may not have been responded to in a long time – we see no father figure and the scene is secondarily about a trip to the hairdresser. In a way it’s the mother’s demonstration of power over the young woman, the young woman who obviously is still a child in her mothers eyes. The entire scene holds a feeling of that classic moment where a parent corrects their child from doing the same things that make up their own traits. Do as I say, not what I do…

The final act is the obvious climax/death act, in more than one way. Remember that the French also call the orgasm “Le petitie mort”. Pretty early on in this sequence Ana falls onto a tree trunk and puts her hand in resin. With the suggestive line of association that has been put forth so far in the movie, this resin is not too far from come, a climax symbolism in it’s own right. There’s the anticipation of coming full circle, we are back in the house where the mystery started, we are expecting the ghosts to come back, but instead we encounter a completely different kind of ghost, the ghost of fornication past. Also there’s the climax to the line of Ana’s story. Where we expect her to fall victim, things take a completely different path. Pay attention to the closing scene, it’s a compact concentrate of the three main themes of the movie Life-Sex-Death and when the final climax is reached colour comes back to the world. The circle starts once again.

Freudian analysts would have a field day with this movie, one example being the cyclic movement that flows throughout the movie and the oral fixation, be it fingers, tongue or straight razor in the mouth of Ana. But getting into a brief psychoanalysis, AMer is once again a testament to the great power of guilt. Once again it rears it’s head and shows just how effective it is. As a child Ana interrupts her parents having sex. Her mother is crying a trait that a child will read as pain or sadness. Therefore Ana can’t be intimate without feeling sadness or pain. Also the frightening ordeal before she disrupts her parents – the blasphemy of stealing from a dead person, the horror of having ones life threatened, and the traumatising interruption – seeing mom crying as father [Jean-Michel Vovk] penetrates her – undoubtedly make it impossible for Ana to be intimate. Instead she get’s her kicks from stalking and claiming her own victims.

Her guilt of the childhood experience, disrespecting the dead, evading death, and interrupting life make her the hot mess she is. The life-sex-death circle is complete. Taking a Lacanic approach to the movie and his theory of “objet petit a” it could be fair to suggest that Ana is metaphorically murdering her father for causing that “pain” her mother experienced in the first act.

Without competition, Amer is one of the most visually stunning movies in a long time, but be aware - this isn’t a movie for a lazy audience, this is a movie that you need to pay attention to whilst watching. It may seem to be random imagery, but observing and taking in what you see will lead you to the conclusion. Much like watching early Giallo movies. You think you know where it’s going but you will never be prepared for the next surprise that comes your way. Not until the final moment will you be able to read the movie and gain the insight you are looking for.

Amer - suggestive, surreal and seductive, a honey-coated mindfuck – it probes deep and thrusts hard. With this movie Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani definitely have created a fascinating art-house genre piece that reaches the top of the scale. But the major question is where do they go from here?

On the BluRay you can find the four short movies directed by Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani. These four short movies obviously play as a breeding ground for the style, and themes that later would become Amer. There's also the theatrical trailer and teaser.

Now tell me that the juxtaposition below was unintentional...


Silver Ferox Design said...

This is such an awesome movie -standout moments for me were in the taxi ride sequence - bliss!

Aylmer said...

Just saw this the other day and absolutely loved it. Beautiful, jaw-dropping and hysterical. The sequence where Ana parades before the gang of bikers left me pretty much bug-eyed and breathless, as did Anna's walk with her mum. Woah. Notch up another recent genre classic to France/Belgium!

Alex B. said...

Everyone I know is raving about this film...doh! Why am I so apprehensive and reluctant to see it?
Will have to watch it tonight and see what all the fuss is about.

LeftFieldFilms said...

Hi there. New to the whole blogging thing but I really enjoy reading your reviews!

I have also just started a blog and I'm looking for like minded people that would be interested in following and help my page progress if you are interested?

Just pay no attention to the blog name as I have no imagination and I'm still thinking up a suitable title haha!

Keep up the good work! :)

CiNEZiLLA said...

Cheers lads. Yeah it's a brilliant fuckin' movie AMER is.
There's a lot of brilliant imagery and suggestive stuff going on there.

Alex, you should check it out, but don't expect the usual giallo pastiche, this is art my friend. So it should be right up your alley! :)

Mick, welcome and I'll check out your blog.


RaroVHS said...

Hi there cinezilla. Can we trade links in our blogrolls? I just added you, I hope you do the same. Thanks! Great site, btw

Japanflix said...

Just looking at the stills makes me want to watch it!

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