Thursday, July 29, 2010

Amer (2009)

The best thing about this movie is its poster.

Pretty good, right?

Amer uses the iconography of the giallo in service of a non-narrative art movie. It is extremely technically adept. The first third of the movie is a near-perfect synthesis of visual & aural ideas from Dario Argento's Suspiria and the "Drop of Water" sequence from Mario Bava's I Tre volti della paura. This segment follows a young girl as she attempts to steal her dead grandfather's pocket watch, while hiding in fear from her grandmother (who is portrayed very much as Helena Marcos from Suspiria). There is palpable tension throughout, with a series of vividly creepy images fractured through interesting editing.

Very clearly influenced by Suspiria

Unfortunately I was far less entranced with the second third of the movie, depicting the same girl as a teenager. This third was closer to Stan Brakhage in its extreme visual deconstruction, but without his intellectual rigour. The whole movie seems built around linking sex and death, a theme that's taken from many gialli but which is not developed in an interesting way here: a girl sees her parents making love while she is already in a state of fear and for the rest of her life equates sex with violence.

Something about this girl reminds me of a Svankmajer heroine

The final third of the movie depicts the same character as an adult, and returns to the more threatening tone of the first part of the movie. This is the part where the sexualisation of violence reaches its apex, and my interest was once again piqued. The movie comes full circle at this point: where the first segment features sex depicted as violence and death, the end features violence and death depicted as sex.

More Argento influence

It's just a shame that it was all so empty. If there was more to hang the movie on, or perhaps if the movie was half its present length, the impressive visual and aural techniques (the soundtrack inventively reuses giallo themes by Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and Stelvio Cipriani) wouldn't seem so much like a formalised experiment. The juxtaposition of sex and death is such a constant in the giallo (and in film in general) that just serving it up once again isn't enough on its own.

This probably sounds like a complete pan, but I actually quite enjoyed Amer. It absolutely nails the aesthetics of a good giallo, and it's a genre I have a lot of affinity for. I have absolutely no problem with style over substance, and I'm a fan of non-narrative film. I loved the homages to many individual movies throughout Amer - not just gialli but also things ranging from Un Chien Andalou to Jan Svankmajer's Down to the Cellar.

Amer is a feast for the senses, deeply sensual and arousing. I guess I'm a little confused by it - I'm tempted to go again to the Sunday session.

Sex and death are very interesting, don't you think?


  1. I think you're going to like Figgis's HOTEL, Pearce. And this review makes me wonder what you'd make of his previous horror film, LIEBESTRAUM. I'll need to look for AMER.

  2. I felt distracted by the arty shots, distracting editing and framing, when I should have been engaged in the story. I don't know what it is - there's none of the deviance of Argento, or any mystery. I felt it was so rigidly self-conscious there was no way I could forget that the filmmakers were visible in every scene...Glad to see something a bit different though...