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This review was originally published at The Cinematheque in a slightly different form.

Brought to opulent (some might say pretentious) life by Belgian directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Amer is an homage to the Italian giallo horror films of the 1960s and ’70s, and more specifically the works of the genre’s most notable denizen, Dario ArgentoAmer (French for bitter) is an all-but-wordless, trisected mindbender of a movie, running portentously through one girl’s life, from her twisted childhood, to the seductively innocent carnality of young womanhood, to her inevitably tragic (and inevitably violent) demise.  In short, it is a lyrical horror movie that manages to arouse and nauseate at the same time and in equal measure.  In shorter yet, it is both succulent and repellent.  In even shorter, it is simply Amer.

Still from Amer (2009)Told as almost Gothic horror, set in a sufficiently terrifying seaside villa, Amer starts out with an eight or nine year old Ana, running from room to room, trying her best to outsmart both her overbearing mother and the ugly crone of a witch that was her grandfather’s caretaker, while attempting to steal a necklace she must pry out of her ancient grandfather’s cold dead hands.  The film takes on a magical feel right away, as an insidious doom overshadows all that is happening around her and her young eyes are assaulted by the evil that lurks around her and (in a scene of frenetic, salacious eroticism) the writhing, sweating bodies of her parents bedroom.  The terror, both metaphorical and physical, that will eventually devour Ana, is already beginning to surround this wide-eyed little girl.

We next turn to the adolescent Ana, her Lolita-esque body glistening in the midday sun, her bee-stung lips curling in a seraphic yet alluring manner, the slight breeze blowing her light dress provocatively, all the while slowly waltzing in front of a row of very-interested bikers, flaunting, advertising her newfound sexual desires.  The erotic longings that first popped up in Ana’s wicked childhood surface here in a much more dangerous way.  Next we see a grown Ana, her fantasy world now completely engulfing her, returning to her now dilapidated seaside home, every shadow, every noise, every creak, every sensual yearning, an ominous foreshadowing of the horror to come.

With the mysterious black-gloved hand that keep Ana from screaming, the muscled, libidinous arms that grope her and strangle her, and the shining, silvery blade that coldly slices against her face and mouth, warning her of what is to become of her, Amer ends with the same seductively perilous urgency with which it began.  Perhaps made as the ego-trip many claim it to have been, Cattet and Forzani nonetheless have captured the essense of those giallo films, and especially the warped, libidinous proclivities of Mr. Argento, to a visual and aural “t.”  Just like the Italian horrormeister’s movies, Amer is an erotically charged mindbender of a movie indeed.

Where to watch Amer

One thought on “GUEST REVIEW: AMER (2009)”

  1. Amer is not a homage to Argento or Giallo films. If it were, it would follow the standard plot formula. Instead, it is a successful effort to recreate the filming style, executed in
    Amer as pure formalism.

    The film is a work of modern art. Cattet and Forzani are enthralled by the artistic elements of Giallo films. They found a way to present those visual trappings in a custom cinematic tapestry designed to focus our attention on the optical design (and music) of the more well-produced Giallo movies, particularly Argento’s films.

    You seem to be sidetracked by the story, all but ignoring the film’s spectacular visual focus and art direction. I think this is called “not seeing the forest for the trees.”

    You also write, “In even shorter, it is simply Amer.” What exactly does this mean? Perhaps I am perplexed by the license you take with English grammar.

    I disagree with your appraisal of Amer as being “an erotically charged mindbender indeed.” It is neither.

    2001: A Space Odyssey is a mind bender. Amer is a genre combination. It is divided into three concise vignettes. The first segment is horror, the second a coming of age story, and the third is a thriller. Furthermore, while there is an arty, non-explicit sex scene in part one, an acknowledgment of Amer’s burgeoning sexuality in the second segment, and a rape in the third, none of these elements are presented in a way that is titillating. There is nothing erotically “charged” about the movie. You make it sound like an Emanuelle entry. This is a misrepresentation.

    I failed to find anything “nauseating” or “repellent” about Amer (or “succulent,” a term I associate with food, not film.) To which scenes were you referring, and how do you find them to be any more unsettling than those in any horror film?

    You also note that “some” find the film to be “pretentious,” and “an ego trip.” Who exactly? Did you actually watch this movie? If you had, I think you would not devote space in your review to acknowledge such comments. I haven’t seen any credible, professional reviews of the film in which that accusation is made.

    I have only seen the above mentioned comments written by amateur “critics” in IMDB. The charges of “pretentious” and “ego trip” proliferate there. Is MDB the site you consulted to research your analysis? Or did you just check IMDB to make sure your opinion is in accordance with the popular pulse, as determined by IMDB contributors’ attitudes? Your pretentiously worded, yet non-insightful and derivative-sounding Amer entry gives me the impression that you hesitate to differ with the masses.

    Your critique of Amer reads as if you put it together from reading IMDB rather than by actually viewing Amer analytically. What an unoriginal and uninspired review. It tells me nothing new about this movie. Worse yet, you completely missed the point of the film.

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