Directed by: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani.
Written by: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani.
Starring: Cassandra Forêt (Ana enfant), Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud (Ana adolescente), Marie Bos (Ana adulte), Bianca Maria D'Amato (La mère), Harry Cleven (Le taximan), Jean-Michel Vovk (Le père), Bernard Marbaix (La grand-père mort), Thomas Bonzani (Nono, l'adolescent), François Cognard (La silhouette), Delphine Brual (Graziella), Jean Secq (L'épicier), Béatrice Butler (L'épicière), Charles Forzani (L'agriculteur / L'homme à la voiture rouge).
I had not seen Amer, Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s 2009 debut feature, when I watched their follow-up The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, late in 2014. That film was visually striking from beginning to end – a loving tribute to giallo horror movies, that looks great, but has no narrative, no characters, and eventually starts to repeat itself to the point where despite all the sex and death on display, the movie ended up being quite dull. Amer is similar to their follow-up in many ways – but at least it has a narrative through line that makes sense, and given that the film is split into three stories, about three different erotic instances at various times in a young woman’s life (as a child, as a teenager, as a young woman), it doesn’t repeat itself as often. The film held my interest more than The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears – as there was something deeper than the visuals in this film. But that’s true only to a point. The film still seems rather bloodless to me – more of an academic exercise than a movie. It’s visually stunning, and has many aspects to recommend it, but the film still feels more than a little lifeless.
The movie is split up into three distant chapters. In the first one, Ana is a young girl whose grandfather has just died – and his body is still sitting up in his room. There is a strange, possibly deranged and violent old lady there as well – who may or may not be her grandmother (I lean towards not, since Ana’s mother wants to kick her out, but what do I know?). There’s a pocket watch that opens, and makes strange things happen – that could either save her, or doom her. When she gets scared, she runs to her parents – only to finding them having sex, a moment that imprints her on forever. There are hints of perhaps an incestuous relationship, and other horrors, but they remain that. In the second film, Ana is now a teenage girl – who body is starting to mature, although she doesn’t quite understand the power it gives her. She has to endure the leers of men and boys on the street, and comments like “You’ve grown so much in the past year”, which sound innocent, but are really profoundly creepy – as the men are sexualizing this young girl. Her mother eyes her warily as well – they are in sexual competition with each other, even if, at first, Ana doesn’t quite realize this. There is a motorcycle gang that she walks through – exuding danger – and a breeze that hits her in just the right way, to awaken something sexual inside her. The third – and longest segment – is Ana as a young woman, taking a harrowing cab ride back to her childhood home – now abandoned, and dilapidated. This segment threatens to explode into either violence or full on sex at any moment for the entire runtime – and things become increasingly dangerous as razorblades become involved.
If you know the work of Dario Argento, and other giallo horror masters, you’ll be in familiar territory here. The film takes great pains to look like those classic films, and the subject matter, the sexual awakening of a beautiful, teenage girl, the link between sex and death, the constant threat of violence and blood, is all here. It’s tempting to read a feminist spin on the material – one of the directors is a woman after all – but I’m not sure it’s there. The film is so rooted in homage, that I’m not sure it’s really saying much of anything.
That, in the end, is my problem with Amer. The whole thing seems like an exercise in homage, with nothing new to add to the genre. It doesn’t update, correct or even really comment on the genre is in. it’s just kind of there. The film looks great – but I want to see these directors take on something like Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy. That film was homage, to be sure, but it also subverts the genre and our expectations of it, and ends up at a truly startling and unique place. That really isn’t the case in Amer. Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani are talented directors, who have proven (twice now) that they can deliver the visuals of a giallo horror movie. Now, they simply have to do something more with it.