The feature debut of Belgian co-directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, and a
movie that, quite understandably, played in heavy rotation and received warm embrace at a number
of festivals earlier this year, Amer is a woozy, deeply eroticized and entirely cinematic fever-dream, a study of entwined fear and desire.
Unfolding in near-wordless fashion, as a mondo stylish and at times brutally direct and elemental study of frayed-nerve terror, the movie assays the warping effects of a twisted childhood on a woman’s relationship with sex and love. Told in three different “movements” that correspond to the
childhood, adolescence and adulthood of its female protagonist (played by three different actresses, including Marie Bos, above), the movie is innately beguiling even when it sags a bit in its middle, compelling you to lean forward and watch, to partake of its stylistic adventurousness.
The title is the French word for “bitter,” but this provocative work is anything but. Instead, it’s lush, dangerous and darkly inviting. Most immediately, Amer is an homage to 1970s Italian giallo horror movies (Dario Argento’s Suspiria comes to mind), though re-imagined as a sort of avant-garde, French rave trance film. But hyperbolic tips of the cap to other filmmakers abound, too, from Chronos-era Guillermo del Toro and the enigmatic, dream-like logic of David Lynch to the creepiness of the aforementioned Argento, Brian De Palma, Mario Bava, and, in the movie’s concluding segment, the stalking, operatic violence of his son, Lamberto Bava.
A stylistically diverse triptych — alternating between striking widescreen compositions, strobe cuts, obstructed frames, discrete montage snapshots and nervy close-ups — Amer also benefits greatly from a smart, exacting sound design and savvy use of emphatic music cues, many lifted from original giallo soundtracks, it turns out. Both metaphorically and quite literally, Cattet and Forzani are interested in the seen versus the unseen, the surface appearance of things and what lingers underneath — and how that informs behavior, elliptically and subconsciously. Amer doesn’t resolve any of this psychological or thematic noodling on a narrative level, but on a purely aesthetic level it surely showcases a strong grip. In Los Angeles, the film plays exclusively at the Laemmle Sunset 5 this week. (Olive Films, R, 90 minutes)