This might be the most in the dark I’ve ever been going into a Shocktober pick. Though there were two big reasons I wanted to watch this movie. 1) This was included in “Fangoria’s 300 Best Horror Movies” list back in 2010. A list I’m still making my way through after all these years. 2) I saw a trailer for Let the Corpses Tan back in 2017 and knew I had to get around to diving into the work of husband and wife team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani at some point
Let the Corpses Tan is categorized as a “Weird Western” so it didn’t quite fit the bill for Shocktober. Amer is the debut film from this duo so it seemed like a better starting point anyways. Amer (which translates to “Bitter” in English) is categorized as a horror/thriller. Though even that description doesn’t sum up the Avant-garde assault on the senses that is Amer.
Amer is a loosely plotted, mostly dialogue-free, coming-of-age film in three parts. We follow Ana (Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud, Marie Bos ) in three pivotal stages of her life. First, we meet Ana as a young girl growing up in a baroque chateau in France. We see the world through her eyes (this film has a bizarre obsession with eyes) as she spies on her parents having sex, finds the corpse of her grandfather spread out on a bed upstairs, and as she’s followed by a woman in a black veil. We get to see Ana’s first experiences with voyeurism, sex, and death all in one 28 minute segment.
The next segment, which lasts about 17 minutes, is Ana as a teen traveling into town with her mother (Bianca Maria D’Amato) for an appointment at the salon. This segment is set in a scenic waterside town in the summertime. Going through town Ana notices men looking at her and is empowered by her own sexuality. The trip ends with Ana’s mother slapping her for flaunting herself.
The third and final 40ish minute segment depicts Ana as an adult returning to her childhood home. Here she is pursued by a shadowy figure in black gloves, a familiar motif from Giallo films. The game of cat-and-mouse concludes with Ana plunging a knife into her assailant but then being pursued by another figure in a surreal turn of events that inexplicably leads to her death. It’s not entirely clear what’s real and what’s not in this metaphor-laden nightmare but it’s a showcase of stunning imagery and editing.
Visually, Amer is a tribute to Italian Giallo of the 60s and 70s. It uses extreme closeups, quick cutting, lots of colored lighting, and is scored with a funk and folk soundtrack. In fact, the soundtrack is entirely comprised of preexisting Italian movie scores from Bruno Nicolai, Stelvio Cipriani, and Ennio Morricone. A move some might call a cheat code, but I love it when artists pay tribute to their heroes. Would anyone under the age of forty know about Bernard Herrmann’s “Twisted Nerve” theme if Quentin Tarantino hadn’t used it in Kill Bill? Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
The film looks like a Giallo but apart from the third act, it has few of the narrative trappings of a Giallo. There’s almost no dialogue, no overarching mystery to be solved, just images and music. It reminds me of when you go to an art gallery and they project hypnotic images on the wall. This film (shot on 35mm film) is one of the most gorgeous films I’ve seen in a while and it does so with very little money. Though I think this limitation is also the film’s greatest weakness.
One can’t help but wonder if the locations are few and the shots are tight because of the budget. No dialogue additionally results in a more efficient production cycle. It’s incredibly admirable what was accomplished here but there’s no real story to sink your teeth into. I found it hard to be emotionally invested in this character or her challenges. The people feel more like props than people.
As a narrative film Amer is fine. As an art film Amer is incredible. Even if it wasn’t my cup of tea I’m still amazed by the talent of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani as visual artists. I look forward to seeing their other films and am glad to check off another film from that Fangoria list. How this film ended up on a Fangoria list is probably the weirdest thing about this film.