Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Amer (2009)

There's a large mansion; a spooky looking old house, complete with furniture and wall hangings reminiscent of those old gothic horror stories. An old man is lying dead, perhaps embalmed, in one of the rooms. In extreme close-ups, weird camera angles and imaginative POV shots, we see the world through the eyes of a little girl, Ana (Cassandra Foret), who scampers about the house while her domineering mother (Bianca Maria D'Amato, dressed in mourning black) scolds a faceless old caretaker, Graziella, about some dead sparrow. But it isn't entirely clear what she is being sounded off for, for the dialog is mostly sparse. Ana appears to be scared of Graziella and turns away just as her face threatens to turn in her direction! We hear some muffled conversation from across the rooms. 

Ana seems to be curious about something; a locket of some sort that lies in the hands of the dead old man. Strange things happen in the next few minutes, as you are subjected to more close-ups of keyholes and evidently nonhuman eyeballs looking through them, the relentless sound of footsteps, the wheezing, and the doors banging while Ana continues to curiously seek the locket; it all culminates in one scene in which Ana sees her mother having sex with a man (who may or may not be her father). Witnessing this scene triggers a chemical reaction in Ana's brain, as she wanders off into another state and the camera takes the form of the Ana's mind and projects images that shift between vivid colors. The scene echoes in her head repeatedly as it does on the screen in a rather lurid fashion. What she sees indeed has had a huge impact on her wee mind.  

Writer-director duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani managed to grab this viewer's attention in the first twenty odd minutes into the film. It is a rather clever cinematic device that justifies the over-indulgent use of close range shots, sometimes grainy, sometimes blurry vision and the continuous shifting of loud colours, for these images are a reflection of Ana's psyche! Ditto for the outstanding sound design that demands attention from your aural senses in a manner that will make you feel like you are very much part of the scene that is playing out for real but perceived in an exaggerated fashion by Ana's mind. The squishing sound, as Ana steps on the dead sparrow makes you cringe. So does the sickening sound of a finger breaking off from the dead body....! 

Cut to a few years later, a teenage Ana (Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud), dressed in a short summer frock, walks closely with her mother, who still appears dominating, or is, perhaps protecting her from the prying eyes of lustful men, while she herself loosens a button of her dress when she sees a car approaching! The setting is quite bright and cheerful compared to the bleak first half hour. A small insect crawls up Ana's body and the camera captures the insect's every move as it traverses Ana's thighs. Voyeuristic? Lewd? Maybe, but the intention is very much such. This is a girl in her adolescence, just discovering her sexuality. And yet again, the camera takes the form of Ana's senses and feelings, as it continues to have its powerful effect on us by making us feel what Ana feels. More bizarre camerawork follows, as the focus zooms in on dripping sweat, Ana's frock slightly being blown up by the wind, and some strands of her own long hair that are held between her full, red lips.....! 

In one clever scene a very important point is conveyed. A group of biker men are eyeing Ana's virginal beauty, an act that evokes feelings like never before in Ana, but her curiosity and that unique feeling of sinful pleasure is thwarted by her mother's sudden slap on her face as she realizes that her daughter is drifting away!  

Moving on, an adult Ana (Marie Bos) returns to her hometown and takes a cab ride to the aforementioned mansion in which she grew up. The taxi ride is a strangely surreal sequence, as Ana asks the cab driver, who she suspects is checking her out from the rear-view mirror, to roll her windows down. She seems to feel an orgasmic pleasure as the wind rubs against her body and her dress starts tearing up at the seams; it is a terrific piece of direction indeed, that puts forth the question, has Ana been living under the shadow of her over-protective mother far too long and not been given the freedom to explore her sexuality in a natural manner? Is Ana terrified of the staring eyes or any kind of look that men give her, thanks to some incidents from the past that we have been given a hint of? Watch out for that subtle but important scene in which, Ana, back in the mansion, cuts out the eyes from the portraits of men that hang around the house! Is there a strange black figure lurking around the house, spying on her? Or is it a figment of her imagination; her immense fear of being watched all the time, taking a terrifying, malevolent form? 

"Amer", a Belgian-French shoe-string budget production, challenges the audience with its mystifying imagery and also manages to enthrall with its stylistic storytelling technique. There is almost no dialog and the film mostly relies on visuals and sound to convey meaning. "Amer" is said to be a homage to the Italian 'giallo' films. But frankly, that influence comes much later in the third act of the film. The eroticism is there, but it is devoid of any explicit sex or nudity. There is sensuality, alright, but it plays out more like a teaser, as it tantalizes the viewer's imagination with the brilliant work of the lens and the sound. Gore and violence, particularly copious amounts of blood spilling and the appearance of a black-gloved hand with a knife, which are essential characteristics of the giallo genre also appear at the very end in a startlingly gruesome final act, until which they are mostly absent. The poster artwork alludes to classic Italian giallo as well , but it is indeed remarkable to find that this film very smoothly blends elements of art-house cinema with the giallo genre, with a premise that revolves around psycho-sexuality! The brilliant background score is akin to what was used in giallo films and some of the soundtrack is apparently directly used from some older films.

They say that "Amer" will appeal to fans of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. But Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have given us a very intelligent and disturbingly spectacular film, that will find its audiences not only amongst giallo fans, but also amongst lovers of surrealist films, gothic horror and psychological thrillers as well. This, is pure cinema....true art!

Score: 10/10  



  1. Fantastic review... can't wait to see this.

    1. Thank you Las Mayanas! Much appreciated, your comment.

  2. Superb review, Aditya. This is, hands down, your best.