When it comes to suspense, horror and the fantastique, the calibre of film-making can range from slick, big-budget blockbusters to fan-made, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it, endeavours. I love them all equally but, only occasionally, does something come along that really touches me.
One such film is Amer. This meticulously crafted labour of love – the brainchild of French film-makers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani – pays tribute to the the 1960s and 1970s Italian thrillers (giallo, in Italian) that have greatly informed the duo’s individual artistic visions. Highly-stylised and virtually dialogue-free, Amer (which means ‘bitter’ in French) explores one woman’s quest for sensual awakening over three stages in her life as experienced through her own five senses.
The first – which takes its inspiration from a segment in Mario Bava’s 1963 trilogy Black Sabbath – sees Ana as a young child attending her grandfather’s wake. Relying solely on sound effects – from heavy breathing to whispers – Cattet and Forzani create a air of unease and eerie dread as little Ana discovers the family’s maid conducting strange rites over her grandfather’s corpse, then is shocked to see her mother having sexual intercourse.
The second part draws on Japanese ‘pink’ films. Now a hormonal teenager, Ana strolls into a seaside village one hot summer’s day and becomes aroused by the sights and sounds around her – in particular, the sound of the sea and of a youth playing with a ball. Originally planned as a short, this section was the springboard from which Amer grew.
The final act is where Amer triumphs. Now an adult, Ana returns to her family’s rundown estate. After a taxi ride that turns into a wildly erotic daydream, Ana settles into the mansion. But her solitude is soon disturbed by masked men who chase her into the estate’s wild, overgrown garden. Ana’s surreal living nightmare finally comes to an end in a shocking, erotically-charged, climax.
I had so much fun trying to pinpoint the many visual points of reference – the house is a huge nod to Dario Argento’s Deep Red (now out on Blu-ray in the UK), while the runaway football in the second part recalls Fellini’s Spirits of the Dead – and this from two film-makers with no formal training? Wow!
As a paean to the power of seduction, Amer is a feast for the eyes as well as the senses. It is also a wonderful example of ‘film as art’ that plays beautifully on both the big and small screens. The new DVD and Blu-ray release is certainly a must-have for lovers of the giallo genre and for anyone who loves bloody good editing. And I, for one, can’t wait for the couple’s next project, the deliciously titled A Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears.