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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 Argento. Amer (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.
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.