Amer (2009) Movie Review

Although the legendary Dario Argento may be still lingering in an extended career doldrums, fans of old school Italian Giallo films have a treat in store with “Amer”, marking the debut of the co-writing and co-directing team of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. The film is a heady throwback to the glory days of the form, blending surrealism, gore and fetishist sex in fine hallucinogenic style. “Amer” has certainly been a hit with genre critics, winning a number of awards at international festivals, including the New Visions Award at Sitges and the Public’s Choice Award at Montreal Festival of New Cinema, as well as having the honour of being named one of Tarantino’s top 20 films of 2010. Fans can now judge for themselves as the film arrives on region 2 DVD and blu ray via Anchor Bay Entertainment, coming with Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s short films, and the usual selection of trailers.

The film is quite neatly split into three acts, following protagonist Ana as a young girl, a precocious teen, and finally as a troubled woman, played, by actresses Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène-Guibeaud and Marie Bos respectively. The first segment sees her living in a huge, decadent coastal mansion with her sinister parents (Bianca Maria D’Amato and Jean-Michel Vovk), plagued by a witch like grandmother Graziella (Delphine Brual), who lives in the room next door. This is followed by a deceptively simple second act in which she and her mother take a walk to the shops, with Ana attracting attention from all the local males. Finally, the film revolves around her as a grown woman, returning to the now empty mansion and being stalked by a taxi driver and a strange dark figure, resulting in much murder and madness.

Simply put, “Amer” is a masterpiece of the genre, and the film which long-suffering Giallo fans have been waiting for after decades of lean pickings. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani display not only an encyclopaedic knowledge of the form, but more importantly a near faultless grasp of what drives such films and can make them so special. As such, the film works not just as a simple tribute or mishmash of classical Giallo elements and references, or indeed merely as a throwback, but stands as a superbly crafted work in its own right. Of course, there is much here which will likely be enjoyed more by connoisseurs, such as the soundtrack peppered with riffs from the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, Adriano Celentano and Stelvio Cipriani. The film itself does contain countless nods to the works of Argento in particular, with each of the three segments recalling different periods from the maestro’s glory days, in particular “Suspiria”, “Deep Red” and “Tenebrae”, all of which were obvious influences, along with others favourites from Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci.

At the same time, Cattet and Forzani manage to clearly stamp their own identity onto the film, and though it is steeped in the sinister glamour of the 1970s, it does at the same time have a definite modern awareness and sense of technique. This shows up in the camerawork in particular, which mixes old fashioned zooms and bizarre close-ups with a far more fluid and ambitious eye, frequently making for breathtaking visuals. The film also shows an amazing use of colour and lighting, which makes it incredibly atmospheric and absorbing to watch, transporting the viewer to a strange and darkly dreamlike half world of magic and unexplained kitsch weirdness. At the same time, it also manages a good number of frights and chills, not to mention one spectacularly nasty murder scene, especially during the first and third acts, which are the two which come closest to traditional Giallo territory. The second act itself is equally effective, and in its way is one of the most memorable depictions of budding teen sexuality and confusion in recent years.

Of course, “Amer” is very much a work of passion, and though it is by no means only likely to be enjoyed by Giallo fans, the odd pacing and lack of conventional narrative logic may make it quite baffling for some. However, in these days of recycled genre product it stands proud as a gorgeously crafted and hypnotic original that will surely find its place as a true cult hit and as a real treat for all aficionados.

Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani (director) / Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani (screenplay)
CAST: Cassandra Forêt … Ana enfant
Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud … Ana adolescente
Marie Bos Marie Bos … Ana adule
Bianca Maria D’Amato … La mère
Harry Cleven … Le taximan
Delphine Brual … Graziella
Jean-Michel Vovk … Le père

Buy Amer on DVD