Amer (2009) co-director Bruno Forzani has himself admitted that Dario Argento’s cult classic Tenebrae (1982) was one of the main inspirations for the movie, having seen it 17 times as a self confessed “giallo” fan (“giallo” being the Italian equivalent of pulp fiction, named after the Italian word for yellow due to the fact that most pulp crime novels had yellow covers).
There is a lot in the film that owes a great deal to Dario Argento and the infamous Italian exploitation style of 1970s and 1980s cinema, but the Belgian-made Amer unfortunately fails to tick all of the necessary boxes, even for die-hard giallo fanatics.
For the uninitiated, Argento films have a number of certain trademarks: murder, pedestrian police work and clunky dialogue, all wrapped up in a delightful mix of high art and ham. The sets are sophisticated and stylish, the women gorgeous, in peril and as mad as march hares, with the men just as barking. However, the experience of watching an Argento feature is quite different to that which Amer evokes.
With a definitive three act structure following the sensual life of a young girl called Ana (Cassandra Forêt), through into her adolescent self (Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud) and consecutively into her emergence as a woman (Marie Bos), Amer has little or no dialogue, making the film undeniably hard work to get into, yet at the same time somewhat fascinating. What Forzani and his co-director Hélène Cattet have done here is to take all of the stylings of Argento, but missed the elements that give Argento’s work heart and charm. Absent is the sense of unapologetic amateurism in delivery, especially of the acting and plot, if not also in the camera work; Amer, by contrast, is far too self-conscious to evoke such impressions.
The first act of Amer is by far the best and most affecting, with the child Ana ‘interacting’ with the corpse of her dead father – whose spirit is incidentally trapped in a silver locket – whilst escaping the menace of a mysterious veiled woman. The sound design during these sequences is brilliant, as is the performance of the young Ana, and delivers a fairytale-like tone that sets it apart from the following two acts – that though visually stunning – also serve to induce impatience and bewilderment.
The adolescent and adult Ana both seem to spend most of their time pouting in red lipstick, gazing into space, enigmatically both fearing and feeling sensual experience. In truth, both women consistently look as though they are bordering hysteria and/or orgasm, with no given back story, logical reasoning or plot. Instead, we are given a number of sequential dream sequences, mapping Ana’s mental and physical development as a substitute, which is ultimately unsatisfying.
In one fantasy, the mature Ana gets into a cab, stating her desired destination in one of the few lines of dialogue, only to then be seduced by a sudden breeze to the extent that the gust tears the seams of her dress apart. This scene in particular is reminiscent of some of Brian De Palma’s work, particularly Dressed to Kill (1980). There are endless shots of erect nipples under cloth, purposely turning the film into the celluloid version of a 1970’s copy of Penthouse, which soon gets a shade tiresome.
Despite its flaws, Amer is still a fascinating piece. The use of insects against skin throughout is very interesting and borders on the “Daliesque”. In addition, the film’s numerous close ups are impressive, and owe as much to Un Chien Andalou (1929) and Luis Buñuel as they do to Argento. Amer is an act of love on the part of the film makers and should be seen as such without looking at it as a pure homage film.
Argento’s own recent effort Giallo (2009) undoubtedly works far better as a gauging point for the genre than Amer, but it is also deeply satisfying to know that the giallo genre has had its influence and is now being served to us by young film makers of the next generation. For this reason no doubt, the “King of Homage” Quentin Tarantino thought Amer one of the top twenty films of 2010.