Amer – Art 6/5 Ent 3/5 Worth 6/5
A slasher pastiche of retro Latin horrors set in the French Riviera, Amer (fr. “bitter”) is an exploration of a woman’s sense of terror and victimization first by the demonic, then by uncontrollable urges of miscreant thugs, then an obsessive psychotic fetishist. And the theme of obsession in the narrative is matched in form by the almost obsessive-compulsive framing and polish of every scene. A perfectionist you’d be scared to have a beer with devised every screen and clipped them accordingly. That struggles against the ugliness creeping behind every wall and impulse in the film, holding it all back in vain. The gushing bile of the worst bits of human nature are treated like a fashion show written by Vladimir Nabokov and directed by David Hemmings’ character in Blowup.
The story focuses on three stages in a woman’s life. In the first act, she’s a child in a decrepit Gothic house flamboyantly lit like an ’80s Halloween dance party. Her creepy supernatural ‘nan is peering in through key holes and constantly threatening her as she’s creaking around in the dark. In the middle act, which punches seaborne air and sunlight into the prior act’s black cobwebs and suffocating stuffiness, we see her as a young girl ogled by (…alleged) rapist bikers as she’s trying to shrug off her doting mother. The middle act demonstrates some illicit sexual tension and sensitivity to creepy nasty menfolk that colors the final scene and breaks from the first. In the final act, when she returns to her old estate, she’s pursued by a weird leather-bound fetishistic weirdo with a knife, and then as the Marquis de Sade would say, nature takes its course.
There’s a lot about Amer that would ensnare lovers of cinema. The technical brilliance of its image and sound, as well as the transporting effect on the senses would be more important for film students to take in than any Fellini or Kurosawa movie. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosse captures vibrant colors, emotive faces, goddamn sexy skin and rustic architecture better than just about any other movie I’ve seen. Editor Bernard Beets fastens the film’s tempo around a perfect progression of hills and valleys and climaxes. And filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani accomplish a fantastic avant garde picture. I’d just imagine that at some point in the production, these Euro artistes were telling their excessively pretty actresses “make zee sex to zee cameruh now if you please”.
But I truly believe that this film isn’t just for film snobs, grad students, slasher fans, serial killers and people who walked into the wrong theater. The absence of straight-forward plot and dialog, the ambiguity of the surreal, psychotic, horrific and feminist subtext shouldn’t drive regular joe six pack away. Unlike the afterschool specials admonishing young women on puberty, or the budding juvenility of “I am woman, watch me pee in the garden and try on training bras” of Catherine Breillat’s work in movies like A Real Young Girl, the sexual development of the main character in Amer is set against the horrors of victimization, sanitized through a stylish modernist lens, but no less scary. The appeal of something so gross is in its sensationalism. This is the ugliness that drives you to click on internet shock sites, and unlike goatse, the impulse is rewarded.
You don’t need to understand Dario Argento’s cheesy-intellectual slasher films of the ’70s to ‘get’ this movie. To say it’s style-heavy isn’t to condemn it as superficial, because it’s artificial. It’s a film about film and made to impress filmmakers, but it’s so exceedingly brilliant to look at and soak in that it makes a case for any willing initiate to better understand the notion that cinema isn’t merely stage drama with better backgrounds, but something more that can communicate thoughts and emotions without dialog … and in Amer’s case, what’s communicated is a neobaroque form of terror.