Amer (2009)

OCTOBER 29, 2011


More than any film I’ve ever seen, Amer depicted dreams and nightmares as accurately as possible, even though it wasn’t a dream-based movie. As far as I can tell, there are no actual dreams in the movie (that’s not to say it all happened), but yet it’s all presented in a fragmented, stream-of-conscious way; telling a very basic story that makes sense as you experience it, but would be impossible to explain to someone later without sounding like an idiot. “No, it’s really good, it’s about this girl who goes to a salon and sees a kid playing ball so she runs for a while and sees a biker…”

That is a “description” of the middle part of the film, which is also the shortest. The closest I can get to describing Amer would be that it was an anthology of sorts, depicting a woman in three different stages of her life; as a child, as a late teen, and as a young woman. In each story she encounters a different type of “villain” that you’d find in an Argento or Bava film (an old witch in the first, a town filled with leering men in the second, and a black gloved killer in the third), and overall it sort of goes through the stages of one’s sexual awakening – she sees her parents going at it in the first act, realizes she’s hot in the second, and finally… well I’m not sure what the hell’s going on in act three for the most part, but there’s a scene where she takes a bath with some candles, and you can probably figure out what she does then.

In other words, it’s an artsy horror film, something that usually turns me off, but there was something quite compelling about Amer. It was almost like the world’s longest experimental short film; every shot was striking but short, it was very flashy and stylish, and I often wasn’t sure where it was going at any point. It was also remarkably short on dialogue – I’m not exaggerating when I say that there were probably only 30 lines in the entire movie, most of them in the first act and almost none of them delivered directly on camera. However, it did not lack for sound FX – EVERYTHING in this movie had exaggerated sound work, from the whrrrp of a tight leather glove to the bouncing of a soccer ball. If someone was watching Amer in an adjacent room, you might suspect they were just listening to some sort of “Foley 101” CD.

That is, when there wasn’t any music playing. There isn’t much of it, but it’s all sourced from other films, not unlike a Tarantino film or Shutter Island. One piece in particular reminded me of the awesome "Too Risky A Day For A Regatta" from Tentacles, and thus I wasn’t too surprised to discover that it was from the same composer (Stelvio Cipriani), albeit for a different film. It’s something that I’m surprised doesn’t happen more often; while you can’t just toss the Halloween or Nightmare On Elm Street themes into a movie without distracting the hell out of an audience, surely there are enough obscure/awesome horror films (or even non-horror) to draw from rather than compose new music that usually kind of sucks. I mean, apart from Saw, has there been a single great horror theme in the past 10 years that will live on as part of pop culture?

Back to the movie, it almost functions as a stylistic love letter to the “jist” of great Gialli past, sort of like how Doomsday was like a medley of “covers” of the best action scenes in the past 25 years (the Road Warrior climax, the Escape From New York “combat trial”, etc). It never really takes anything directly from any of Argento or Bava’s films that I can think of, but their influence is clear throughout, particularly in the first sequence, which is heavily imbued with shots drenched entirely in single primary colors, sometimes even in sequence (so you’ll see a shot that’s colored entirely blue, then see it again in red). And the primarily daylight set killer scenes in the 3rd act will may you a déjà vu of Tenebre or Four Flies On Gray Velvet, but the “plot” has no relation to those films.

As if to back up my “it’s like a long short film” idea, the only extra on the DVD is a collection of short films that directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani have made over the past 10 years, so they are clearly comfortable telling a story in an abbreviated amount of time. Interestingly, they all show off things that were eventually explored in greater depth in Amer; the first short is all sound design (no dialogue whatsoever), the second has a fascination with closeups of eyeballs and keyholes (a major component of the first story in Amer), etc. And they all FEEL like Gialli, sans bothersome things like a storyline that can be summed up in any meaningful way. I wouldn’t have any interest in them on their own without the film as context (at times they make Amer seem like the most conventional movie ever made), but it’s interesting to see their progression as filmmakers while sticking with this same sort of material. I mean, if I made a feature film, even if it was horror, it wouldn’t be anything like the short films I made in college, though I hope I’d still get to cast my good friend Matt in a role.

Obviously, this isn’t for everyone, and it almost defies critique since it’s all style and focused on conjuring up emotions in the viewer, which means some might feel absolutely nothing and just shut it off, whereas it made me want to go outside naked while eating an apple, for some reason (I opted to remain clothed and play Arkham City, however). Some folks go to the museum and look at a Picasso; others might just turn on Amer. Curious to see what the team does next, they certainly have the FEEL of old school Italian horror (despite being French!) down pat – let’s see if they can do a straight up narrative as well.

What say you?


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