AMER- I have been of late so disappointed by highly rated IMDB or AMAZON films (films such as TRIANGLE and A LONELY PLACE TO DIE), that the recently watched film AMER… comes like manna from heaven.
The first feature film of writing/directing duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, AMER (2009) is an almost impossibly sensual and sensualist film, that spends nearly all its initial running time in this elevated/heightened nearly psychotic state, that is equal parts arousal and sensory overload.
There’s a story here, but it’s a very thin one that follows our protagonist from childhood to womanhood, and one that becomes more thin as the film progresses, and ultimately takes backstage to a house of mystery, and a young woman who burns like the sun.
It is a very disturbing film, as it deals, under the skin, with themes of compulsion, predation (namely the predatory behavior of men to women), psycho-sexual behavior, and a degree of depravity and submission, all edited to a frenetic, insane, tension aching pitch.
Add to that the look and the soundtrack, which is a love-letter to the giallo, and you have something… that compels. Giallo being a distinctly Italian form of thriller, that traces its flowering most notably to the 70s and 80s films of Dario Argento.
A bastard child of the deconstructive American crime films and horror films of the late 60s and 70s (think PSYCHO meets DIRTY HARRY) and a precursor to the later American slasher films, Giallo is set apart by its preeminence of style, both in terms of visuals and soundtrack, over substance.
Much as film-noir is characterized by daring use of style and visuals and camera angles, to speak on the dysfunction and disillusionment, and moral abyss of a post World War II America, Giallo equally was a filmic response to turbulent political, class, generational and societal fears and concerns in the wake of an age of assassinations, wars, mass murders, and revelations and revolutions of the age of Aquarius, not to mention the conflict of a new sexual frankness in conflict with a still pervasive sexual repression.
In many ways giallo as a genre, was a bunch of kid filmmakers pushing the boundaries of film, and in many ways tapping into their own demons, and a world’s demons. So if you are a fan of films like SUSPIRIA and THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH you will find much to enthuse over in AMER, a film that is evocative of the giallo, from the soundtrack to the use of primary colors, while being a very unique and singular viewing experience.
Possibly a frustrating viewing experience if your taste does not run to the aforementioned giallo tenet of style over substance. If a movie has to ‘get to the point’ AMER is not the film for you, but if it is the journey well told that entrances…then AMER, will entrance you to the end.
Indeed for me the least interesting part of the film is the black-gloved razor wielding killer in the final act, and moments of blood and gore and the film trying to hew too closely to Argento’s template, but even that, thankfully, gives way to something… unique, and yes both irrational and sensuous.
I can see many people hating this film for its fever dream approach, however it is that approach that ultimately wins me over. I don’t like slasher films, and find gore and torture porn films uninteresting and without merit, not far from true pornography. Yet I find in the giallo, when done well, something that manages to transcend simple exploitation and pandering, and be not unlike art.
AMER is giallo, done well.
I adore, a well composed shot, and being a devotee of the schools of both sensualism and surrealism, I adore the stylistic extremes of this film… and see it being one that is often on rotation in my DVD player. If the filmmakers can resist the easy indulgences of gore and splatter, such weaknesses a little on display in the third act of AMER, and quite pervasive in most of their short films (also included on the DVD), they will be filmmakers to watch. When they don’t rely on the crutch of gore, as in most of AMER, they are mind blowingly good. Grade: B+.