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|Index||30 reviews in total|
I had the great privilege of seeing this Belgian movie called Amer upon
its first ever screening at the Fantastic Film Festival here in Lund,
Sweden. It was a stroke of luck, given that I had virtually no
pre-conceived idea about what this movie was all about, I had just read
in the folder something about it being original despite giving a lot of
homage to the Italian giallo genre. Didn't sound too bad, I thought.
But in my mind the experience of Amer left a vastly bigger impression
than almost any giallo I've ever seen. Not that a movie like Profondo
Rosso isn't excellent, but this is just whole other story.
The giallo connection is confusing, so I'll just point out that the movie really isn't a giallo at all. It does give a lot of hints and bows, specially to the greatest works of Bava and Argento, but it's not preoccupied with these details at all, they remain details, and what the movie instead does is present a visual feast that you can only feel and experience. You're not doing yourself any favors by trying to follow a plot. I'd call Amer a drama, but that would also be misleading.
The movie is divided into three segments. In the first one we are in a spooky big mansion, following a little girl and her wandering about through rooms and hallways. She has a firm and hard looking mother dressed in mourning black. In one of the rooms lies a dead old man. She is consistently followed by a monstrous figure all dressed in black. Everything she experiences, she experience to the fullest and it's no use trying to part reality from dream world. When the little girl's feelings are strong enough, there seems to be no difference and the movie seems to continually express her mental world, rather than the "real". There is a magnificent, mindblowing scene where she catches her mother having sex with her lover. The incomprehensible sight causes the movie itself to literary break down. Words simply can't describe it.
In the second segment we see the same girl, now slightly older. But, certainly, not "old enough". We see her walk in sunlight, firmly side by side with her mother, both wearing summer dresses that dance along with the cinematography. Everywhere there are male predators. She runs away from her mother. She meet boys. She meet men. There is a tension and a danger in every shot, at times it seems as if the movie is breathing along with the characters, and it is impossible to tell if the danger is a thing of lust or a threat of death. In the third segment she is an adult, returning to the house of her childhood which now stands dead and abandoned. But the figure in black that haunted her as a child does not sleep.
I don't know when I will get the chance of seeing this movie again. It feels like a love story in my mind, I yearn and long for my long lost love. Will we ever see each other again? I can't deny that Amer is the definitive wet dream for a film critic or a film student, because it tempers with the limits of where narrative ends and imagery begins. It has the visual flair of Argento, but the perception of the characters and their world is as transcendent as in Tarkovsky's Mirror. The movie is jam packed with images that are surreal, deeply moving, sensual, scary and exceptionally beautiful. I keep feeling tempted to make silly metaphors like "the cinematography is making love with the editing" but you know what, that's exactly what this movie feels like. And I also think that it lays way beyond the shallow vanity that I guess you could accuse Argento for. I think the movie is expressing the feelings of the characters as they experience them. It is a rare thing in movies when you as a spectator can actually feel the heat of the sun, the sting from the thorn bushes, the spider crawling all over your body. It is unbelievably rare that we experience being given the look when the character feels it too. Most movies attempting to gain any kind of erotic charge fail for even trying. I have no idea how they manage to make it work in Amer. It is truly a fascinating piece of work that transcend from beyond the screen and somehow lures the audience in too. It might just be the most seductive film I have ever seen. From the insanely imaginative imagery in the beginning, to the profoundly striking close-range perspective in the adolescent middle, and the sheer weird and poetic amusement of the finale, Amer is just one of the rarest gems of movie making I have seen in a long time. I somehow have a feeling I won't be able to present my feelings for it in a proper way, and I do suspect it is a film that has to be seen to be believed, understood, experienced. I can, however, clearly state that it is one of the best movies I have seen this entire decade.
Leaving viewers in the dark about the true inclination of a piece is
commonplace in Art Cinema. I do agree that most mainstream films now
are over explained and blatant with whatever plot device is being
utilised. However, while i think it's good for the viewer to give a
little of themselves to work at understanding a director's vision this
was a little much.
The visuals are beautiful. Some of the little touches exquisite (the way the teenage Ana hypnotically chews on a strand of her hair was simultaneously abhorrent and alluring) I'm sure there is an intricate back-story here with allusions to Sigmund Freud etc (from what i've heard there is a portrait of him in the house, however i didn't see it) but i'm not hugely interested in discovering what it is. A little explanation can make all the difference. Some connection with the audience would have helped this piece along.
In the end, the plot made little difference. Its slightness WAS the film for me. I enjoyed the inspired jump-cuts and the obsession with body hair and sexual gratification. I was amused and disturbed. That's fine. But the film used these devices to the point of saturation. Overkill. Egotism.
I may be missing the point here, so be it. This film stands well as a piece of visual art. The vivid blue Mediterranean, the dark haired women, the gorgeous cinematography in general. But it is missing something as a film and thus with narrative. It would have worked FAR better as a short 15 minute piece.I would like to say i'd re-watch this and get to grips with what the director is trying to say, but that would be a lie. Certainly this film is nothing like the Giallo films of Fulci and Argento that i have seen so far in my admittedly limited viewing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
No story, no point, no script. Please, viewer, fill in the blanks
yourself, and then feel as if you're smart. (Absurdist cinema as a
confidence builder the con-job that has healed many.)
Why have an actual plot? That's so old-fashioned, so passé. It's so much more "artistically valid" to throw in a few loosely related - or even better, totally unrelated - scenes together and then hope that there are enough suckers out there to mistake your laziness for genius. It certainly worked for Godard and a host of other cinema la-la-land charlatans.
"Amer" is a girl of few words. But then again, so is the movie which is dedicated to her rather confusing life. There are perhaps a dozen lines of dialogue in the entire thing. Note that I said "thing" and not "movie". Just because "Amer" runs for 90 minutes doesn't necessarily make it a movie. But that's debatable, I admit.
The thing/"movie"/whatever starts off with a little girl who lives with her parents and her zombie/dead/undead/barely-living/perhaps-living grandparents in a large mansion near the French coast. One would think the fresh air and beautiful vista of the French Riviera would lift the spirits of the population of French people that have amassed there, but that's not entirely or at least not always the case. There is an air of doom and gloom about (as is fitting for a dull flick aiming to be "artistic"). The living are constantly peeved except when they're having sex in upright position (the girl's mother), and the dead/undead are even worse: they are harassing little girls (she's alive, at least for now).
The girl, Amer, plays a game of hide-and-seek with her zombie grandma who may or may not be a flesh-eating demon. It's tough to tell, because grandma certainly acts like a hell's minion, chasing her poor granddaughter throughout the house, trying to snatch some sort of amulet or something from her. The same amulet that Amer hijacked from her dead?/undead?/zombie grandpa while he was lying asleep?/dead?/undead? in his bed.
To cut a 29-minute non-story short, the girl Amer escapes the clutches of evil Granma and makes it all the way to puberty, which is where the second part of the movie takes us. Yes, at hour 0:29 we are finally spared the continued shenanigans of the living dead (coz it does get a little tedious after about 5 minutes) and their 29-minute long game of hide-and-seek. Not exactly a cinematic experience to tell your (dead/undead/not-yet-born/unborn) grand-kids about.
Part 2. Cut to the girl some years later. I can't quite tell how old she is, strangely enough. At first she appears to be around 20, but after a 12-to-14 year-old boy attempts to kiss her pouty French lips, I start thinking that perhaps Amer 2 is meant to be in her puberty, around 15 or even less. Oh, well, who the hell knows. At least she doesn't meet a 55 year-old bald man and falls in love with him, which is the premise of 35% of all French dramas and comedies. This segment doesn't last long. Soon we are to enter Amer 3. Ehem, I meant, we're to enter Part 3 with Amer 3.
Part 3. At around 35 Amer is pretty much into masturbating all the time. This is a French movie, after all, so obviously she's going to be obsessed with sex 24/7. She does it during taxi rides while sticking her head out the car window, and she does it in her bathtub. In the bathroom, an unknown assailant tries to drown her. It's a half-hearted attempt because Amer 3 manages to save herself simply by unplugging the water in the tub. Not exactly a master-killer this one. Or perhaps he was just teasing. Who knows. It's a French art-film, we are not supposed to understand anything, so just the fact that I can tell you that someone was trying to kill her is a phenomenal success in itself, meaning I actually managed to understand SOMEthing here.
Some time later, the taxi driver approaches the house. He must have come for sex. Someone bars the exit of the mansion so the taxi driver draw out his knife (don't all cab drivers carry knives while on their sex-related rendezes-vouzes?) But before long he is being cut to pieces by the mysterious assailant. Hmm. Was it Amer 3 herself? We are meant to think that, but then she is attacked too (perhaps ANOTHER assailant? anything is possible in a silly flick like this; after all we had a retired old zombie couple chasing around a young girl). The movie ends with Amer 3 stiff in a mortuary. Dead. Braindead. Just like the movie.
If you haven't seen this goofy little French bundle of pointless pretentiousness then you might think I'm joking. But I'm not. This really is the basic outline of "Amer 1-3", so if you enjoy absurd, lazily written, meaningless "art horror" flicks about sex, mutilation and the "coming of age" (ha ha), then rent this out or download it from a torrent. Have a ball. Just don't get upset if you start yawning, because this is "art", after all.
I have to agree with jan_ulalume's review in that this may be
avant-guard to those who have never seen such imagery, but to those who
have (in essence) grown up on this stuff, it is more akin to a
"giallo's best hits".
With the "camera looking through the clear lightbulb shot" from SUSPIRIA (along with the colored lights directed onto people and key subject areas), Fulci's preoccupation with eyes and nose bridges, even encompassing Bava and countless other Italian filmographers filmic visual ques (WHO SAW HER DIE's funeral veil POV), like the former reviewer states it becomes over-saturation of style to the point of becoming ridiculous.
I will say that the first segment with the little girl is the best, simply due to the fact that there seems to be more of a coherent story that one can follow compared to the other two segments, which focus primarily on visuals alluding to some set of visual metaphors (even Zalman King wouldn't go this far), not to mention that the last segment's "twist" is (regardless of how predictable it may be to those familiar with these things) isn't built up very well at all.
Regardless, I would still suggest it (at least the blu-ray, as the clarity may help the viewing experience a bit) at least just to take it in. Maybe with some editing and some more giallo music (as the second and third acts are nearly music-less, which hurts those sections quite a bit for me) the movie could come across better...
AMER is all style with absolutely no substance.
It's a collection of over-directed scenes stitched together with overdone editing all about nothing.
Aside from the overdone beginning, which has very little to do with the rest of the film, in tone or anything else, the rest is just 60 minutes of shots pouty lips, of long hair ending up everywhere or of the wind blowing in between a young girl's legs or a middle aged woman's legs, sending her in constant state of near orgasmic frenzy. In this film, the wind is truly powerful!
Every little mundane detail is a sexual catalyst and this is amped to the nth degree, in case we couldn't figure it out after the endless number of close-ups of lips and flesh and sounds of heavy breathing.
For instance, when the middle-aged woman walks through the garden surrounding the mansion, the trees, plants and shrubberies she comes across seem to want to ravish her. This is me rolling on the floor with laughter.
This film has two directors, one of them being a woman but even so the so-called 'male gaze' has never been more omnipresent. I've never seen so many panties/crotch shots outside of a Spice Girls music video.
Its attempt to ape the Giallo style of filmmaking (which includes a cheesy retro poster) falls resolutely flat. Giallo films are first and foremost passionate and this film is as passionate as a dead fish washed up on a deserted beach.
A very shallow cinematic experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Amer" has three parts, sections, chapters, whatever you want to call
them following three specific periods in the life of Ana, her as a
child, virginal teenager, and a young woman experiencing an unusual
sexual awakening. Even in the second chapter, you feel something
sinister could happen to Ana as she seems to purposely drift towards
danger (in the second part's case a group of bikers). The first chapter
has young Ana interested in a timepiece clutched in the hands of her
grandfather (who may or may not be deceased), experiencing her first
sight of sex catching her parents in the throes of ecstasy while
attempting to avoid her creepy grandmother (I call her the "lady in
black" as she wears a black dress and shawl, her face almost always
hidden). The second chapter has a teenage Ana, walking with her mother
to a store for groceries (her mother also is there to get her hair
colored and dried), chasing after a soccer ball she kicked away from a
boy interested in her, finding herself in the company of a rugged
motorcycle gang. The third chapter has Ana returning to her childhood
palatial home, now in ruin and decay, possibly in jeopardy of becoming
the victim of a psychopath in black leather gloves, carrying on his (or
her) person a straight razor. In the third chapter is a taxi driver who
drove Ana to her home after she got off the train.
The direction by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani never allows the film to remain grounded in reality, but instead they opt to pursue the desires and fantasies of the protagonist who seems to have kept her inner yearnings and sexual passions held imprisoned within. But, even more interesting, is how the sexual evolves into a weird psycho-sexual, with Ana's fantasies growing more violent until a victim finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The camera work is up, close, and personal, and if you are not a fan of extreme close-ups of the flesh, of the eyes, of the mouth, then this film will certainly annoy you. There is also a heavy emphasis on sound, whether it be leather rubbing skin or the metal of a straight razor tapping teeth, cloth of a dress beating away thanks to the wind (in the second chapter, we see how the wind flaps open Ana's dress repeatedly, her panties present in quick bursts), the use of comb teeth to pleasure the flesh, or this ominous sound of heavy breath, the directors want us to always be aware of the characters and surroundings revolving around Ana during each chapter of her life. I firmly believe what we witness as a child can have a great impact on our lives as teenagers and adults, with Ana experiencing terror and sex first hand at such an early age, shaping the woman she would become. The use of color is pure Bava and the POV is all Argento, while the more giallo elements feature prominently in the final act, when there's a nice bit of savagery that punctuates Ana's journey into the abyss. Tantalizing shots of hands caressing skin (particularly at the end, with erected nipples further conveying the erotic charge such caress brings), little knowing smirks that signify Ana knows men are watching her closely, and a dress ripping apart at the sewn seams as Ana is caught up in the wind while having her head out the window during the taxi drive to home, all add a sensual quality that is present throughout the moviethis is the ultimate sexual awakening movie that turns dark and deadly. Eye popping cinematography from Manuel Dacosse and impressive editing from Bernard Beets ensure that the film carries a mood and aura so surreal and off-the-wall, we experience all the sights and sounds that are present near and around Ana (even an ant or spider pose a threat to Ana, crawling up her leg or into her hair). A bearded face, an eye through a key hole, aged fingers creeping towards her: all seem to offer the possibility of evil or harm to Ana. "Amer" will be certain to frustrate some viewers while others may find it a tough slog, but I think those interested in something a bit different and unusual might like it.
The NY TIMES called AMER "an exercise in giallo (eroticized horror), a
richly colorful mosaic of sinister sidelong glances" while the LA TIMES
enthused, "a nightmare vision of desire and fear -gorgeous, heady,
dazzling!" but these pointed paeans are only partly true. Except for
the odd snippet, there's no dialog or musical score in the three
vignettes depicting the life of a disturbed young woman (childhood,
adolescence, adulthood) and although the last sequence contains
elements of the giallo, the film is more of an homage to the indelible
images of "maestro of the macabre" Mario Bava.
AMER's first segment on a child's reaction to her grandfather's death re-imagines the opening tale in Bava's trilogy I TRE VOLTE DELLA PAURA (aka BLACK SABBATH) from prying a valuable object out of a dead man's hand and the nightmare that follows right down to the dripping water and eerie blue, green, and red light that bathed the terrifying tableaux. The second segment on the girl's dangerous sexual awakening combines Bava's OPERAZIONE PAURA (aka KILL BABY KILL) and it's white soccer ball with the nebulous evil-under-the-sun aura of Tennesse Williams' SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. The third and final scene that sees the young woman revisiting the abandoned villa where she grew up actually does reference BLOOD & BLACK LACE-style gialli with its black gloves, straight razor, and stalking sequence that leads up to a graphic murder. Unfortunately, there's only one (barely set piece) slaying in AMER and this dreamy collage of jump cuts, split screens, and undeniably beautiful imagery is less than the sum of its parts which may prove disappointing to hard-core horror fans. Cineastes -and those who enjoy avant-garde narrative as well as color-drenched kaleidoscopic visuals- should, however, get their money's worth. Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani's offbeat endeavor also reeks of Roman Polanski's REPULSION and I found the "eroticized" exercise admirable but more dull than anything else.
Cattet and Forani are a Belgian couple who have made five short films
together. This is their first feature. Divided into three parts, it
focuses on childhood, adolescence, and womanhood in the life of Ana.
Each moment is seen symbolically, very sensually, but without much
discernible narrative, in a marvelous display of stylized visuals (in
intensely colored and multiple-filtered 35 mm. images). There is a
powerful, hit-you-over-the-head soundtrack. The material is fragmented,
beginning with the images of eyes, presented in long horizontal
rectangles. A girl is browbeaten by parents, or a couple anyway, whom
she witnesses through a keyhole, shut in, and comes upon having sex.
Later she also contemplates the hardening corpse of her dead
grandfather. White grains under a bed. An ant. A spider. Loud booming
sounds, which unfortunately in the Museum of Modern Art screening room
blended with the underground sound of a rumbling subway line.
Later, the girl grows up and the film, which begins with dark interiors in an old house, switches to a sunny, Mediterranean, outdoor world. We are near Menton (credits indicate later), on the margin between the French and Italian Rivieras, along the Cote d'Azûr or the Amalfi Drive. A gang of motorcyclists with leather and metal and tight jeans stand by the road with their cycles. But we see only bits and pieces of them.
And this goes on and on, never ceasing to be beautiful, lushly noisy, sensual, fragmented, narrative-free. Amer, which means "bitter" in French, may be ideal for those who like to revel in "pure cinema."
There is one trouble though, and that this film tends to turn neurosis -- or desire, whatever it's about, which isn't altogether clear to me -- into a fashion shoot. It's said to mimic the style of Italian "giallo," pulp fiction, or the Daria Argento kind of stuff, and Italian movie music is among the many sonic allusions. Initially the feel is very much like something Spanish, or the Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth. But as time goes on the impression of a fashion shoot undercuts the evocation of dream and fantasy through visual means. What might have been edgy, subtle, and memorable turns to chic kitsch. Or slick horror, when someone plays around with a straight razor in a threatening and suggestive manner as in Dali-Buñuel's Andalusion Dog.
While I and others with me found Amer hard going, despite its accomplished visuals, a British online reviewer called Alan Jones (reporting on the London Film4 Frightfest) was entranced, delighted with the evocation of Italian "gialli." He concludes, speaking of the late segment he explains is a walk along the highway to the hairdresser: "Charlotte Eugene-Guibbaud couldn't be more tantalizing as the hair-chewing Lolita either with her mini-dress hem flapping against her knickers at crotch-level. Maria Bos is pure Florinda Bolkan in the eyes-reflected-in-knife-blade finale, the portion where debts to A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN are felt the most. Shimmering with a lush vibrancy and utilizing recycled Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, Stelvio Cipriani and Adriano Celentano music within its superb sound design, AMER carries an erotic and exotic charge I never thought could be replicated again outside such essential gialli as STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER or the classic Dario Argento Animal Trilogy. AMER is a faultless masterpiece, so just relax and breathe in the heady perfume of Cattet and Forzani's dazzling lady in black."
This glowing report shows the potential Amer has as a festival film that may, since Magnolia has bought it, get theatrical attention. However, in my view Cattet and Forani have not essentially moved up from their five short films to a feature, because this is merely short-film material spread out over ninety minutes, divided into three, and diced up into many edited visual fragments. A series of stylish pastiches does not a feature make. The conception is too slight and too fragmented to work as a real feature film. Nice eye candy though, and as Jones says, the sound design also is definitely "lush."
Shown as part of the New Directors/New Films series co-sponsored this year by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center and sown in New York at both the Walter Reade Theater and MoMA's Titus Theater in April 2010. Amer has been shown at many festivals between September 2009 and spring 2010.
Amer is an example of pure cinema if ever there was one. It's a movie
with extremely little plot and very minimal dialogue. While on one
level it's a homage to the Italian giallo film, it's at least equally
an avant-garde experimental piece. If you could imagine a collision
between Suspiria, A Lizard In A Woman's Skin and Meshes of the
Afternoon you wouldn't be too far off the mark. It's similarity to the
latter Maya Deren film is where it might be problematic to those who
think they are in for a true homage to the giallo, as this is a movie
that is more of a mood piece than anything else. Admittedly it's a
pretty dark mood but nevertheless this is first and foremost an
experimental work. Your tolerance level for narrative-free avant-garde
cinema will be the deciding factor in whether you like this or not.
It's about a girl called Ana. And it's divided into three sections: childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The first part is the most impressive; it's a deeply creepy segment about the child at a highly traumatic moment in her life, involving her dead grandfather and her witnessing her parents having sex. It's full of surreal nightmare imagery that recalls some shots directly lifted from Suspiria, with the requisite intense colours greens, blues, reds with a creepy soundtrack of sighs that also recalls that famous old film. The second part loses the momentum a bit; it switches to a sunny outdoor locale and has the teenage Ana accompany her mother in a trip to the local town, where she seems to experience some sexual awakenings. The final part has Ana arriving at the run down family home again; this part incorporates some of the fetishistic giallo motifs that you might expect.
Amer is a highly stylised film. The cinematography is constantly inventive and artistic. There is a preponderance of close ups; in particular eyes and skin. The compositions are beautiful and the use of widescreen is excellent. When you see a film like this it does make you shake your head sadly when a film such as The King's Speech is nominated for best cinematography at the Oscars ceremony. As fine a film as it is the cinematography in that film, and most winners of this category in the Academy Awards, is solid yet so safe and unremarkable. This little film from Europe wins hands down against any contender from this year's Oscars in that category. But films like Amer are never nominated for Academy Awards and never will be. Rant over.
The film features a purely retro music soundtrack from the likes of Bruno Nicolai, Ennio Morricone and Stelvio Cipriani; the opening piece being from the Sergio Martino giallo film The Case of the Scorpion's Tail. And I suppose that opening would make you think this film is going to be a straight homage but as I have said it really isn't. Amer is most certainly not a film for everyone it has to be admitted but if you like gialli and avant-garde cinema then I think you would do well to at least give it a try.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a fan of giallo, surreal and 'arty' films, as a bilingual French speaker and lover of Truffaut, Bunel and Goddard as well as Bava, Argento and Fulci, this should have been my kind of film. But Amer is a 90 minute waste of celluloid. The saving grace is its beautiful locations. My immediate reaction to the opening scenes were that it was filmed in the same villa as 'Hatchet for the Honeymooon'. I've checked this and hatchet was filmed near Rome, whereas Amer was shot (well thrown lazily together whilst drinking absinthe) near Menton. But, good start if it is to be an homage to Giallo. To be fair the first of the 3 segments is an OK student giallo pastiche. It is eerie, confusing and slightly disturbing. This would be fine if it had any narrative link to the rest of the film. The 'middle' section is possibly amongst the worst waste of time I've ever spent in front of a screen.A dreary real-time walk into the village while mummy gets her hair done then chasing a football down a hill to be confronted by the lamest bunch of pseudo bikers (on 50cc mopeds) I've ever seen. Give me strength! The final segment is OK in a confused way and is littered with Argento references most notably from 'Profundo Rosso' and 'Tenebrae'. And then it ended. which was about the best bit.
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