It’s been a month now since I caught Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Amer at the EFM in Berlin and a lot of that time has been consumed by deciding whether I like the movie a little or a lot. It basically boils down to deciding if the fact that the movie purposely annoys the fuck out of you is a cool thing or not. I don’t mean annoy in the sense that it’s bad, mind you, no Amer is a piece of great innovation and awesome craftmanship. But the film continuously builds up expectations in it’s viewer only to stray completely of path and deny the audience of any release. And goddammit does it work! Amer is a film that’s rumbled around in the back of my head for a longer time than Von Triers Antichrist and Fabrice Du Welz’s Vinyan. I’ve decided that not only do I like Amer a lot, I truly consider it a technical and narrative gem.
The fact that Amer is more of a filmtechnical excersize than a traditional thriller is obvious from frame one. After serving up a deliciously corny 60’s inspired intro, Cattet and Forzani almost top Argentos Suspiria in a sustained suspense sequence very much inspired by that very movie. And then they leave you hanging. After serving up a prolonged sense of absolute suspense the likes of which we only see en French and Spanish horrorfilms these days, the directing duo abandon traditional horrific tension almost for the remainder of the film. I was baffled, annoyed, enraged even. But just like interrupted sex, the seance leaves you on edge and highly receptive to the hour of sensual and sensitive filmmaking that ensues.
Devoid of horrific imagery and content, the second act slows down, at times almost to a standstill, and dwells on sexual tension instead. The plotless film moves from one tableau to the next, following a quiet little girl who grows into a quiet young woman, and showing us how fear of the old woman in the basement is somehow related to the silent sexual tension in a cabride or having to pass a bunch of leatherclad bikers. There’s a Freudian undertow here that not only keeps the movie together but also connects it to the Giallo-brethren that Cattet and Forzani continuously pay homage. This is far from a Giallo in any traditional sense, though, and most would say that only the opening and the final reel, which finds the woman fearing for her life at the hands of a razor-wielding, shadowy figure, truly belong in the yellow company.
Amer is a little film that I’ve come to appreciate more and more, the more I’ve thought about it and right now I hope I get the chance to see it again soon. More than anything it’s the fact that the Belgians actually pull this movie of, that’s impressive. In a single film they demonstrate complete control of thrilling suspense in one scene, deliver colourful, psychedelic imagery in the next and then manage to make wind convincingly sensual in two of the most sexually tense sequences I can recall having ever seen. There are some small hickups from time to time, with the stylistic psychedelia sometimes leaving the narrative hanging, but through most of the film the photographic excess is wellmeasured, underscoring the emotional tension and rendering the movie certifiably engrossing.
For once I’d say it might actually be a good thing to know a little about the film before watching, because that way you won’t spend the entire second act waiting for the film to go into horror-mode again. You might just be open to the sensibilities of a movie thoroughly charged with emotion, that I’ve only come to truly appreciate in retrospect. In many ways it’s more arthouse than an actual horrorfilm, but whatever Amer goes for in a standalone sequence, more often than not it hits with impressive accuracy.