Three key moments, all of them sensual, define Ana's life. Her carnal search sways between reality and coloured fantasies becoming more and more oppressive. A black laced hand prevents her from screaming. The wind lifts her dress and caresses her thighs. A razor blade brushes her skin, where will this chaotic and carnivorous journey leave her?
That is the official synopsis of 'Amer', the stunning debut feature of Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet. This makes it sound somewhat oblique and obscure, criticisms which I'm sure the pictures' detractors will be only too quick to level at the film itself. For 'Amer' is very much a love-it or hate-it film, a piece of pure cinema which utilises the motifs of classic giallo films in an audaciously new and fresh way. Whilst the film can be classified as being a giallo, if you go in expecting a twistily plotted murder-mystery then you will be bitterly disappointed. 'Amer' has little in the way of traditional narrative and is as much an Arthouse film as anything.
On a purely technical level, the film is simply dazzling. Visually, it's an astonishing remix of classic giallo tropes, with echoes of Argento, Bava, Martino et al working at their peak. Shot composition, camera movement and stunning editing combine with breathtaking seamlessness. With its use of masses of extreme close-ups and candy-coloured fantasy sequences in the grand Bava/Argento tradition, giallo fans will be in heaven. The film is scored with excerpts of classic giallo and polizio soundtracks by the likes of Bruno Nicolai, Stelvio Cipriani and Ennio Morricone, and key sequences were written and shot specifically to fit the music and the results are stunning. However, there's actually not really that much music in the film (and hardly any dialogue), yet it still manages to be sonically captivating throughout. 'Amer' has possibly the best sound mix in recent memory. It was shot in classic giallo tradition with no sound, then intricately dubbed over afterwards. Selective sounds are used and exaggerated, and odd noises such as flicking the teeth of a comb or a strange Helena Markos-esque heavy breathing are picked out in the mix.
The performances are terrific too. The three actresses who play Ana are particularly well cast, and are startlingly convincing as being the same person. It's not a film for showcasing typical dramatic acting, but is mostly about looks and expressions. Particular mention must be made of Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud in her first film who plays Ana in the middle section of the film, and who definitely has the classic feel of a giallo-girl about her. Whilst this section of the film has the least amount of typical action and no real horror/thriller trappings, with its gorgeous sun-dappled village vistas it's arguably the finest section of the film.
The film is broken into three sections, each of which details an important moment in the life of its protagonist, in childhood, adolescence, and womanhood. The first sequence then deals with Ana as a young girl on the night before her Grandfather's burial, the second has teenage Ana walking into town with her mother and seeing a group of bikers whilst her mother is having her hair cut. The final sequence sees adult Ana return to her childhood home, leave her scarf on the back-seat of the taxi and get menaced by a black-gloved, razor blade-wielding figure in black. I must mention here the opening childhood sequence, which contains a sense of odd, creepy tension that is the spiritual heir to 'Suspiria' and 'Inferno', a comparison I don't make lightly. Whilst I enjoyed the shlocky 'Mother of Tears' on its own terms, fans of Argento's earlier supernatural pictures will find in 'Amer' a tantalising taste of what most people wanted from the third film.
If the film is not really concerned with telling a traditional story, then what is it concerned with? Essentially it's about the sensual experience of watching it, as the film places you in the position of Ana and invites you to experience events as she does. Every touch of skin, gust of wind, or creak of leather is writ large on-screen, and the result is almost overwhelming, a sensual, erotic, unique, one-of-a-kind film that is almost impossible to describe. Whilst some may call it a case of style over substance, for me the film is akin to say 'Suspiria', where the style becomes the substance. It's foregrounding of sensual experience allows the film to have an emotional and psychological impact beyond a more traditional film. Like two-thirds of Argento's Three Mothers films it's a film designed to make you feel rather than think. Indeed, the film made me feel the same way that I felt upon seeing 'Suspiria' and 'Inferno' for the first time, as the film completely captivated me on a level beyond simple narrative or character levels. A breathless sense of being unable to tear my eyes from the screen, of not quite daring to believe how good what I was seeing (and hearing) was, a sense of falling in love with a film and knowing that I'm going to memorise every frame. This is a film that has reminded me just why I fell in love with cinema in the first place, and why I started to make my own films. Whilst a film like this is inevitably an acquired taste, there is no higher recommendation that I could give to a film.