Rewatched Jan 30, 2011
Michael Mackenzie’s review:
How do you describe AMER? You might as well ask "how do you describe the indescribable?" AMER is a loving tribute to the Italian "gialli" of the 1970s, but at the same time it is not a giallo. It's a mesmerising, beguiling and at times downright frustrating exercise in experimental filmmaking, eschewing narrative coherence in favour of a string of striking set-pieces that play upon the senses - sight, sound and, to a certain extent, touch.
Superficially, it's a film of three separate "episodes", telling the story of Ana at key stages in her life - child, adolescent and adult - and appears to chart her sexual awakening (most overtly in the first and second segments). It's best not to spend too long trying to work out what it all means, though, and simply go with the flow, allowing the rich imagery and sounds to wash over you.
It has to be said that, taken as a whole, AMER is decidedly uneven. The first episode, an homage to the traditions of gothic horror films from Mario Bava's BLACK SABBATH (specifically the segment "The Drop of Water") to Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA (the rich primary colour hues provide a tantalising glimpse of what many of us wish Argento's MOTHER OF TEARS had looked like), is by far the most effective, with the lack of a plot that makes any sense playing right into the dreamlike ambience of the photography. The second segment, which takes places under the fearsome glare of the Mediterranean sun, is the most coherent segment but the one in which the least happens. Still, it's an overpowering assault on the senses: you can practically feel the intense heat and smell the sweat. (Incidentally, as Alan Jones pointed out at the Glasgow FrightFest screening of the film back in February of last year, while this segment may superficially have the least to do with the giallo, it is in fact visually the most giallo-like of the bunch, given how many of them take place in intensely bright daylight.) The third segment, which returns the action to the same crumbling mansion in which the first was set, albeit under very different circumstances, is arguably the least effective of the lot. It's the only one of the three that dragged for me, and the heavily blue-tinted night (day for night?) photography lacks the visual elegance of the rest of the film, even if it's a look that is in keeping with that of many gialli. This segment appears to take most of its inspiration from David Hemmings' exploration of a remarkably similar house in Argento's DEEP RED, while the hooded killer that shows up in the final moments appears to have stepped straight out of Sergio Martino's TORSO.
I wouldn't recommend AMER to those who have little to no interest in the very specific subset of Italian genre movies from which it draws is visual and aural cues. Even for me, a long-term fan of these films, it has its moments of frustration, where the experimental narrative techniques simply become too oblique to function in a 90-minute film. Directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani are clearly exceptionally talented and I hope we don't have to wait too long to see something more from them, but I'd be interested to see them tackle something that marries their striking visuals with a more coherent plot (which, I'm led to believe, may well be in the pipeline - I'm told their next project is another giallo homage, albeit this one exploring the narrative conventions of the genre). Ultimately, AMER deserves its place in my "Top 10 of 2010", but it's probably the title from that list that I'd be least likely to recommend to the "average" filmgoer.