We here in the horror community should understand, perhaps more than any other group of people, that film genres are not as cut-and-dry as they are often made out to be. However, we oftentimes forget about that, and we become very quick to try and label a film as falling within a specific sub-genre. In fact, in a lot of ways, we rely on these labels as a way to explain the films we watch to other people. Sometimes it works, and we are able to make an apt comparison, but sometimes, it fails miserably. Amer, the latest film from Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, is a perfect example of this.
Before I really discuss the film itself, I have to admit to you that I’m still not quite sure exactly what I witnessed while watching it. Based off of the marketing and buzz that surrounded the film prior to its release on Blu-ray and DVD, I expected it to be a modern-day giallo. After all, the brilliant-looking posters, the trailer, and just about every press release or news story I read about it just screamed of the genre. Because of this, I popped in Anchor Bay UK‘s new Blu-ray release of the film expecting a mystery with a good deal of violence and a black-gloved killer. However, I soon discovered that while Amer certainly pays an immense amount of tribute to that genre, it is far from actually being what I would consider a giallo film.
Is this a negative thing? No, it certainly is not. However, I believe that it is a great example of how our preconceived notions about a film, and our intense desire to label it as something, can really affect the way we think about it while viewing it. I think that sometimes, when we go in expecting a film to be one thing, and it turns out to be something else completely, it can be a huge shock to our system. Sometimes, this results in us loving a film that we expected to hate. Other times, we feel duped. Occasionally, the differences are so jarring that we just don’t know what to think. This last point is kind of how I feel about Amer.
In fact, summing up the plot of the film is very difficult; not necessarily because it is overly complex, but because the entire thing is based on what are essentially a series of moments that take place over the course of a woman’s life. While these moments are connected in some fashion, there is no clear explanation as to how they are related, and what happens in one sequence does not necessarily lead up to the events of another. Instead, we get what are essentially three or four short films that are centered around the same characters, in different stages of their lives, with the main focus on the character of Ana.
When the film opens, Ana is a young girl in a dark and forbidding house. We get the sense that her mother is oppressive, and while Ana seems to fear her, she also seems frightened, yet mesmerized, by the body of a deceased old man (presumably her grandfather) that is lying in one of the house’s bedrooms. Fast forward some time later, and we find Ana as an adolescent, presumably living in a bright and beautiful area by the coast. Though her mother is still with her, she manages to run off where she finds herself in a situation that evokes some sort of mixture of fear and sensuality within her. Lastly, we find Ana as an adult, returning to what is presumably the house from the beginning of the film. At this moment, she seems to be gripped by some sort of madness while being stalked by a shadowy figure.
If that doesn’t sound like the most concise of summations, it’s probably because Amer really isn’t easy to convey to someone who hasn’t seen it. Part of this is because the film is almost entirely based on visual and audio cues. In fact, there are only a handful of lines throughout the film; the majority of them at the beginning. That being said, it is ultimately up to the viewer to interpret the film based on their own ideas, and in doing so, they fill in the spaces within the “story.”
For me, this arthouse style of film can be a tough sell. Oftentimes, I find movies like this to be little more than pretentious art that seemingly exists only for college students to argue about in coffee houses. However, sometimes it manages to work, and I thoroughly enjoy the film (take, for example, my fascination with many of David Lynch’s films). Amer manages to walk the line between these two emotions; never really losing my attention, but never fully engrossing me either.
If the film has one thing going for it, however, it’s the fact that it looks and sounds amazing. This is where the idea of it being a tribute (and I stress that word) to giallo films comes into play, as the lighting, framing, colors, and angles certainly evoke feelings of nostalgia for that genre. Bright reds, uncomfortably close pull-ins, and slanted camera angles are all on display here. In fact, practically every aspect of the film’s look pays homage to the Italian films of the 70s and 80s – specifically, Argento, Bava, and to some extent, Fulci – and each shot feels like a separate work of art. The sound design is equally brilliant, with various noises used creatively and effectively throughout the movie. The few music pieces that accompany the film are recycled directly from older films, yet they fit perfectly with this one; even if it is a great deal more modern.
However, for me, all of this brilliance was overshadowed by sequences that were too slow and too loosely strung together. I’ve never been much of a modern art kind of guy, and no matter how many times my friends have tried to explain to me why a toilet on display at the MoMA is worthy of discussion, I just can’t agree with them. In some ways, the actual content of the film falls into this same predicament. While I can clearly see what is being presented in each segment of the film, I have trouble pulling everything together into one large picture. In fact, to me, Amer almost feels like it would have worked better as a series of short films; not a single 90-minute piece. Seeing as Cattet and Forzani come from a short film background, it’s not surprising that their first feature might play out like this.
As for the technical presentation of the Blu-ray, I have to say that I don’t imagine the film has ever looked or sounded better. The high definition video delivers a very film-like picture, with a grain structure that makes itself noticeable, but doesn’t overshadow the visuals. The blacks are solid and deep, and the colors seem to really pop off the screen at you. I don’t have the DVD version to compare it to, but I don’t imagine that it would look this good; even if it were upscaled properly. The lossless audio is also great, with a wide range of sounds to take in and effective use of the satellite speakers and sub. Simply put, if you are going to watch Amer, and you have the means, then Blu-ray is the way to go. Just bear in mind that this disc is Region-B locked, so unless you have a UK player, or a modified US player, you will not be able to play this disc. However, I believe that Magnolia has picked up the US rights for the film, so I expect that we will get our own version here in the near future.
The disc is sparse on special features, but what is there is actually very worthwhile. The only real content is the filmmakers’ initial short films – Chambre jaune, La fin de notre amour, and Santos Palace – but these films certainly are worth a watch. After viewing them, it was very clear to me how their work has progressed over the years. In fact, as I mentioned before, I feel that Cattet and Forzani are most comfortable when working with shorter films, and I think that is where they really excel. In these films, narrative is not as much of a factor, as you do not have to stay engrossed for as long a period of time, and it is easier to just enjoy the visuals. Their shorts also feel much more horror-related than the feature, which is always a good thing in my book.
In the end, I consider Amer to be like a shallow supermodel: It’s gorgeous to look at, but doesn’t have a whole lot to say. It also doesn’t help that the things that it does have to say feel forced and less original than they might seem at first glance. However, I have to give the directors props for trying. In my eyes, they certainly made a visually stunning film, and it is clear that they are extremely talented. I just hope that their forthcoming efforts focus more on building a solid framework; not simply delivering several smaller pieces that feel patched together. Still, I know that there is an audience out there for this film, and while the actual content didn’t wow me anywhere near as much as the visual component, I’m sure that others with greater attention spans and more of an inclination towards the modern art spectrum will eat it up.