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An eroticized homage to 1970s Italian giallo horror films. Hlne Cattet and Bruno Forzani's pastiche tour-de-force plays out a delirious, enigmatic, almost wordless death-dance of fear and desire. Its three movements, each in a different style, correspond to the childhood, adolescence, and adulthood of its female protagonist. Drawing its stylized, hyperbolic gestures from the playbooks of Bava, Leone, Argento and De Palma and taking them into a realm of near-abstraction. Amer has genre in the blood. Its bold widescreen composition, super-focused sound and emphatic music (lifted from original giallo soundtracks), and razor-sharp cuts make for an outrageous and intoxicating cinematic head-trip. Featuring music from composers Stelvio Cipriani, Bruno Nicolai and the legendary Ennio Morricone.
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European cinema basically broke tradition and thumbed its nose at narrative style so essential to American film by the late 60's (and, truth be told, we weren't doing it well any longer either, so the calibrating tools utilized to judge these films needed adjustment), creating something that made you feel rather than think when it came to absorbing and digesting your cinematic Wheaties, and we are eternally indebted to them for this breakthrough, like it or not. It opened far more many doors than it closed, that's for certain. And the Giallo genre benefitted greatly from this invention, and this film is indeed a wonderful, dizzying homage to the heyday of the enigmatic, hyper-erotic, slightly schizophrenic if not sometimes incoherent styling associated with the giallo film. The first and second 'movements' of the film are absolutely captivating to succumb to. Like a collision of Bava, Argento and Martino, it revels in the artistry of these masters yet manages to add something as well. The second act wasn't nearly as absorbing, and didn't necessarily 'fit' with the others, at least thematically, having little to do with the giallo or rest of the film except to show the viewer a midpoint in the development of the main character, and blew the continuity of the entire film. Once interest is lost, it's rarely regained. But it does finally restore its focus to conclude on a positive note (unless you're the protagonist), leaving one with mixed feelings about the entire affair. At least it did for me.
It's one thing to do away with narrative and still have a cohesive whole, but when you also delete almost all dialogue and plot at the same time, you're left with a giallo-based video-coma for the MTV generation - a series of hyper-edits and allusions to a story that's never satisfactorily explained or developed past a first or second draft. I was interested enough to watch it a second time, but the gaps present were still there. The directors are certainly skilled and talented in the craft of cinema-making; now if they could only find a screenwriter they'd be a triple-threat to transgressive cinema. It's one of those flicks that makes as much sense with the sound off as it does on, though the audio is exciting and engaging as sounds are heightened, exaggerated and stretched for maximum impact. You'll never look at a comb without hearing the sound employed here for the rest of your life. But there's much here to be praised as well as chastised, so don't get me wrong. After two screenings, I'm still somewhat ambivalent about this one, and that's not all bad now, is it?
In my opinion, four of the five shorts included on this disc are at least as good as the feature itself, so it's understandable that the filmmakers are to be reckoned with somewhere down the pike - if this is their first full-length hatchling, I can't wait for their maturation. Ardent fans of the giallo will want to check into this madness, but others will claw at their skin like meth addicts while watching, so govern yourself accordingly.
If you want something darkly experimental and abnormal, grab it tightly and hold on. If you want traditional, don't trespass this road - it'll kill ya for sure. 3 1/2 stars.
For the uninitiated, Argento films have certain trademarks: murder, pedestrian police work, clunky dialogue, all wrapped up in a delightful mix of High Art and Ham. The sets are sophisticated and stylish, the women gorgeous, in peril and as mad as march hares. The men just as barking, but the experience of Argento features is quite different to that ‘Amer’ evokes.
With a definitive three act structure following the sensual life of a girl, adolescent, and then woman, Amer has little or no dialogue, which makes this film hard work, albeit fascinating. What the directors have done here is take all of the stylings of Argento – but missed the elements that give Dario’s work heart and charm – the sense of unapologetic amateurism in delivery – especially of the acting and plot, if not in the camerawork. ‘Amer’ by contrast is far too self-conscious to evoke the same kin d of response in an audience. The first act of the film is by far the best and most effecting with the child Ana ‘interacting’ with the corpse of a dead father whose spirit is trapped in a silver locket, whilst escaping the menace of a black lace veiled woman. The sound effects are brilliant as is the performance of the young Ana, played by Charlotte Eugene Guibeaud, and this delivers a fairy tale quality that makes it stand out from the following two acts that re although visually stunning – induce impatience and bewilderment.
The adolescent and adult Ana seem to spend most of their time pouting in red lipstick, gazing into space enigmatically both fearing and feeling sensual experience. Both females look as though they are bordering hysteria and/or orgasm with no given backstory or reasoning and there appears to be no plot whatsoever with sequential dream sequencing mapping the development as substitute. In one sequence, the grown Ana gets into a cab and states the address in one of the few lines of dialogue only then to be seduced by the breeze to the effect of it tearing the seams of her dress apart. This is reminiscent of some of Brian De Palma’s work – especially ‘Dressed to Kill’ with Angie Dickenson consistently in the same mental state as the adult Ana especially. There are endless shots of erect nipples under cloth, purposely making the film a celluloid version of a 1970s Penthouse. This is fair, but gets a shade tiresome.
The use of insects against skin is interesting and very Daliesque and the close ups are impressive that owe as much to Un Chien Andolou and Brunel as they do to Argento. The film was shot in Menton – the last stop of the French Riviera before the Italian Riviera, a lovely and scenic part of the world: the house that features in the last act was purposely chosen by Bruno as it was here the young man grew up and the mansion in question held nostalgic importance for the director. This comes across in the entire film: it is an act of love on the part of the film makers and should be seen as such without looking at it as a pure homage film. Giallo – the Argento movie in a modern context is far better as a gauging point for the genre than Amer – but it is deeply satisfying that the Giallo genre has been taken on board and is being served to us by young film makers of the next generation. For this reason, no doubt, Tarantino thought Amer one of the top twenty films of 2010. The DVD is out on 31st Jan.