By Don Simpson | October 31, 2010
Directors: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Writers: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Starring: Cassandra Forêt, Bianca Maria D’Amato, Marie Bos, Delphine Brual, Harry Cleven, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud, Bernard Marbaix, Jean-Michel Vovk
I was really disappointed this Halloween because I thought I did not have any horror films to review…so, in cases like these, I typically pop in old reliable (Dario Argento’s Suspiria) to get me through the night; but tonight, without knowing what to expect, I happened upon a screener of Amer and for whatever reason I opted to pop it into my DVD player. Honestly, I had absolutely no idea that Amer was a horror film — and I certainly did not suspect that it would send my head spinning in blissed out neo-giallo delight!
Amer (French for “bitter”) is split into three distinct chapters, each focusing on Ana at distinct points in her sexual evolution: prepubescence, adolescence and adulthood. In the first part, the prepubescent Ana (Cassandra Forêt) wanders a eerie old coastal mansion of skeleton keys, art-deco wallpaper, ornate tiling and creepy portraits. In the room adjacent to Ana’s bedroom lives a mysterious old woman (Delphine Brual) shrouded in black lace who physically haunts the house in the mourning of the death of an old man (Bernard Marbaik), presumably Ana’s grandfather. Ana’s mother (Bianca Maria D’Amato) is upset about the old woman’s (presumably Ana’s grandmother) strange ritualistic behaviors; Ana is just plain curious about the goings-on. Ana watches the old woman, the old woman watches Ana.
Eventually the acid kicks in and the film takes a leap down the proverbial rabbit hole. Kaleidoscopic hallucinations and nightmarish freak-outs commence the moment that Ana steals a pocket watch from her grandfather’s brittle rigor mortised fingers. Frantically trying to evade the evil clutches of the shrouded woman, Ana dashes into her parents’ bedroom only to find them in the middle of a multicolored sexcapade. Ana’s bulging wide eyes say it all — her prepubescent self is literally engulfing the raw data quicker than she can decipher it. Curiosity may not have killed her, but it is certainly blowing her mind right about now.
Cut to a tiny ant crawling out of Ana’s adolescent navel. Beside her mother, Ana (Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud) struts concupiscently along the roadside with pouting voluptuous lips and sensually spaced teeth wearing a flirty purple dress which bounces and blows just high enough to reveal her upper thighs…and occasionally a brief glimpse of her panties. The male gaze is magnetically drawn towards Ana’s newly nubile frame.
While waiting for her mother outside a shop, a young boy intensely bounces his ball (as if releasing pent-up sexual frustration); he too cannot keep his eyes from Ana. He purposely allows the ball to roll to Ana’s feet in a lackluster attempt to get a closer look at her; but Ana is on to his game and she punts the ball down a pathway. Ana and the boy chase after the ball. Upon reaching the resting place of the ball, Ana meets the lusty gaze of a biker gang. Once again, Ana’s body is transformed by the camera lens into an abstract landscape; while sexual energy is translated visually in the form of sweat. A reflection of light from one of the bikes sexually caresses Ana’s body, from her face, onto her breasts, and stopping finally at her crotch.
In the final chapter, a sinister taxi ride returns an adult Ana (Marie Bos) to the manse of her youth. Now in complete shambles, as if neglected for ages, the house exudes a haunted spookiness. Nonetheless, Ana enters the house — wearing a playful blue dress and tall black leather boots — ensuring that she will indeed meet her impending doom…and let the gore fest begin!!!
Belgian directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have created this artfully rendered film in brilliant homage to Italian giallo horror films of the 1960s and ’70s — specifically Dario Argento and Mario Bava — while also embracing the rich sexual subtexts of Nicholas Roeg, Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg (Freud would have had a field day with Amer’s sheer menagerie of psychosexual fixations) and the jarring experimental nature of avant-garde filmmakers such as Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger.
Cattet and Forzani’s use of color is absolutely intoxicating. The pleasure principles of this gorgeous and sumptuous horror film are exclusively eye candy — Amer is practically a silent film, communicating solely with the camera’s eye (which finds itself often transfixed on eyeballs) and a riveting soundtrack (which borrows gratuitously from the likes of Ennio Morricone and Goblin). Cattet and Forzani have manufactured an unadulterated atmosphere which skillfully imparts the feeling of seduction, infiltration and vengeance. There appears to be immense significance in every visual element, and what does not mean something certainly feels like it should.
Amer explores how a young woman’s perverse childhood affects her evolving prurience; a visual representation of sexual cause and effect if you please. It is a nightmarishly surreal trip through memory, hallucinations and dreams — but we never know which is which. So much of this utterly narrative-less tale is conveyed by way of extreme close-ups, which means that there are no clear bearings or markers to clue us in as to the complete context of the events. Amer is truly a creepilicious psychedelic mind-fuck, just the way I enjoy my horror.