A young girl terrorized by a mourning woman in black. A blossoming teen discovering the attention her body attracts from men. A woman stalked by a razor-wielding assailant in her childhood home.
Clearly, this is a film about sex.
Amer offers three distinct peeks into one woman’s life with minimal dialogue and maximum atmosphere in an exploration of innocence lost and sexual identity gained. Colored light splashes, indirect camera angles, and a heavy emphasis on images and sounds make this more of a sensory experience than a traditional narrative. It’s an ode of sorts to the Italian giallo classics of the past from Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and others, but where those films often triumphed style over a relatively weak story Amer uses style in place of any story at all. Viewers looking for anything resembling a traditional slasher film should look elsewhere, but those interested in a fresh, visually impressive film (albeit one with flaws) may want to seek this one out soon.
Ana is first introduced as a young girl in a beautiful but suitably dark mansion currently occupied by her parents, her grandmother (?), and her deceased grandfather. Drawn to the dead body Ana’s curiosity takes hold in her attempt to pilfer the pocket watch clutched in the corpse’s hands, but the old woman, veiled and dressed head to toe in black, startles her and sends her scrambling. Her escape brings Ana to her parents’ bedroom where she witnesses them making the beast with two backs. The incident seals her fate in a haze of colored tints, and she’s forced back to her bedroom where she’s left to face the old woman’s wrath alone. Commence creepy eyeballs peeking in through keyholes…
We next find Ana strolling with her mother on a sunny day. The plump-lipped teen’s short dress billows in the breeze welcoming stares from passing drivers. A boy rubs against her, and some faceless motorcyclists watch as she moves with a seductive obliviousness. The unsettling stares find an unnatural compatriot in the sun itself as a reflected light works its way down her body from her budding breasts to her barely concealed lady bits. Her mother is none too pleased…
The final segment sees Ana returning to her now empty childhood home as an adult, but while she’s still getting attention from men it’s no longer an object of curiosity for her. The cab driver undresses her with his eyes, the men who pick up the trash stare silently as she hands them her garbage, and she thinks she can avoid it all in the solitude of the house. But she’s wrong. A man with a razor has other plans…
Make no mistake. This is not a film with any kind of discernible plot or narrative, there are no real characters to speak of, and there’s nothing even remotely resembling a conversation. The handful of words that are spoken are limited to off-screen or otherwise indirect voices leaving viewers to piece the “story” together based strictly on what they’re seeing and hearing. It’s a challenge and it leaves some room for interpretation, but odds are it will always come back to the sex. Ana’s sexual awakening is followed by a realization of sexual power which is then followed by the dangers and necessary punishment for flaunting that very power.
The most memorable giallos place women in deadly circumstances and bathe them in a sea of elegantly crafted visuals, red herrings, sharp blades, multi-colored pallets, and reluctant heroes. Amer, while an obvious nod to the giallos of the past, is itself not really part of the genre. There is no visiting musician to witness a crime, no killer to track down, no abundance of suspects… there is only an immersion into purely intentional style. Extremely tight close-ups of eyes abound throughout the film as Ana watches the world and the world watches her, people are shown through filters of color or fabric, nameless men exist mostly as lips, hands, and other detached body parts, and sexuality practically oozes from the screen.
The audio treats are just as beautifully crafted as the visuals from the sound effects to the film’s score. The music consists of short pieces recycled from previous movies in the genre and hit just the right note of suspense, uncertainty, and exhilaration. The sound effects are equally integral to the experience including cars and bikes throttling, doors creaking, and one particularly memorable noise made by a metal blade scraping across teeth. It is as nerve wracking to the soul as it is brutal on the ears.
Amer is not an easy film to enjoy. Casual viewers need not apply as the reward here comes from watching and experiencing the film frame by frame, soaking in the textures, and surrendering yourself to the overwhelming atmosphere. Writers/directors Hélène Cattat and Bruno Forzani make their feature debut after a series of similarly themed shorts. It’s no surprise that this film itself feels like three shorts, and that distinction is probably the most damaging aspect. The theme is clear throughout, but as the actresses and environments change so do the viewers attachments. It’s not a deal breaker though, and viewers are forced to fill in the non-existent narrative with their own thoughts and imaginings. And if the worst thing that can be said about a film is that the audience has to contribute to their own enjoyment and satisfaction, well, that’s not such a bad thing.
Amer is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
The Upside: Beautiful imagery and atmosphere; fantastic use of sound, music, and very sparse dialogue; exposition free
The Downside: Brings ‘style over substance’ to a whole new level; three segments feel detached; pacing suffers at times