If you've been reading the site lately, you've probably already heard about Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet's Amer. Described as a neo-giallo from Belgium, our own Alison Nastasi has been chomping at the bit to see this film for months now, putting up several articles including the trailer. As you know, we love our giallo films here. Giallo, action, post-apocalyptic sci-fi ... the Italians have made some great genre films, and giallos in particular have become part of most every horror fan's lexicon. The holy trinity of Bava, Fulci and Argento made names for themselves with these types of films, so, needless to say, the expectations were high as I sat down for the first screening of Amer on the second night of SXSW 2010.
Amer, which is French for sour or bitter, is presented in three distinct sections, all of which follow Ana as she grows from childhood into womanhood. It is a sexual coming of age story, told in the specific style of giallo. We start with Ana's first discovery of her sexuality, walking in on her parents having sex and struggling to understand the feelings it evokes in her as a child. The film then jumps forward in time to her budding sexual identity as a teenager being the object of desire for those around her, before finally wrapping up with the mature sexual energy she possesses as a fully grown woman. If this stuff sounds a little strange, you can rest assured that it is.
The film is an experiment in both style and story. It is an avalanche of overwhelmingly heightened sensory perception, telling its story not through dialogue or exposition, but almost explicitly through the sights and sounds that Ana experiences. While it's not specifically shot from her point of view, Amer does put the viewer inside the head of the title character, which allows us to discover the film as Ana discovers herself. There probably aren't more than a dozen spoken lines in the entire film, and yet the story is still conveyed with an impressive degree of clarity.
On the one hand, giallo is a strange stylistic choice for a film with this particular subject matter. On the other hand, the style, notable particularly for its striking visuals and auditory cues, lends itself perfectly to the way in which the filmmakers wanted to go about telling their story. The first section is full of symbolism and metaphor. As a child Ana doesn't really understand what she's seeing and experiencing and as such, showing representations of her young mind trying to process things that are beyond her makes sense. For example, guilt over sexual expression is personified as an opponent, an attacker, coming to get Ana and stifle her. There's definitely a big element of paranoia in the way this is presented, and this first section has the most concentrated use of intense colors that are often seen as a defining characteristic of giallo. It also has a pounding score and highly exaggerated sound effects that really add to the experience. And the second section in particular uses extreme close-up to great effect to exemplify men's lust for her and Ana's reactions to those leering stares. The filmmakers definitely set out to make a giallo and in that goal, they have succeeded.
Despite the coming of age story, it's important to note that they do end up squeezing in a murder scene. It's not really a horror film, unfortunately. But it does have some of the right imagery, with bright red blood and a shiny sliver knife. In fact, the film contains one of the most agonizing sound effects I've ever heard, the sound of a knife grating across teeth. I cringed when I heard it and I won't soon forget it.
Interesting though it certainly is as an experiment, it just doesn't work as a film. The concept wears out its welcome by about halfway in and the pace grinds to a halt. It's definitely visually striking but dull and frankly a bit boring to sit through. As an experiment it could've worked well as a short. As a feature, it feels like the story is stretched to fit the 90 minute runtime. Amer has some cool points going for it, but ultimately, it falls flat.