Amer’s trilogy-tale takes place at a villa beyond a labyrinthine path that stretches past the bars of a reclusive gate. It’s there that viny tendrils have a taste for flesh and trees bleed milky white. Ana lives inside the house on the hill, where as a young girl she becomes fascinated by the waxy body of her deceased grandfather. She engages a dark, witch-like figure in a game of cat and mouse that conjures all the anxieties of childhood. Eyes twitch behind keyholes, tiny feet patter up impossibly long staircases, and a glowering mother’s eyes look on disapprovingly. An accidental peek at her parents having sex is like staring into the sun for young Ana, and becomes the act which has shaped her budding sexuality when we meet the now adolescent girl in the second act. Did I mention the entire thing is shot with a nightmarish palette that would give Suspiria a run for its money?
Directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have crafted a stylish and sexy piece of cinema that is a glowing tribute to the Italian thrillers of the ’60s and ’70s made famous by auteurs like Dario Argento and Mario Bava. Lurid lighting, nefarious figures, borrowed scores (the soundtrack is composed of classic tracks that the duo listened to during the making-of the movie), and hyper-sensory cuts are as gripping as a pair of black-gloved hands around a pale throat. Amer‘s influence doesn’t just stem from the giallo genre, however. While some of the movie’s sequences are directly inspired by fan favorites such as Sergio Martino’s Torso, this French experimental film contains slices of other cinema greats like Un Chien Andalou’s razor-meets-eye scene — which Fulci also made famous — and the surrealist short’s dream logic narrative.
That seems to be the biggest complaint about Amer — the lack of traditional story structure and the absence of dialogue, which is somewhat amusing considering the movie’s source material. The gialli aren’t exactly known for their cohesive story lines. While a conventional plot may have allowed us to empathize more with Ana’s pathos in the final frames and dip our fingers beyond the genre’s glossy sensuality, Amer’s free-range fantasy works on another — and still satisfying — level. This is a sensory experience, and the heightened skin-deep sensations that lure us in with colored splashes, unusual camera angles, and a cacophony of sounds will send you reeling into the fray. It’s a hypnotic wave of erotic and visceral delights, that makes the cry of a blade scraping bone absolutely wanton.
In many ways, Amer has more in common with a movie like Repulsion than its stylistic brethren. The genre’s most-loved tropes are explored from a singular female perspective where omnipresent, leering male characterizations have grown into a faceless sexual menace that torments and exhilarates Ana into the third act. Men and women alike will be transfixed by the film’s sexiness, but women will also find familiarity in Ana’s liberating and vulnerable experiences. (Yes guys, sometimes riding the train is exactly like that.)
As a Lolita figure in the second act, the filmmakers perfectly capture the strange place between childhood and womanhood where many girls yearn for freedom (in Ana’s case, the freedom to flaunt, flirt, and be rid of her overbearing mother), but don’t fully understand the power they have. Moments that expose her newfound sexuality as a young girl — like the breeze that lifts her skirt in front of a group of men — humiliate her as a grown woman, as evidenced by a neurotic fantasy about a stranger tearing her dress open. When Ana does give in to these primal forces, the results are bloody and self-mutilating.
Visually mesmerizing and seductive, Amer’s fragmented narrative won’t appeal to everyone, but the pieces of the puzzle aren’t constructed haphazardly. While it feels like a bit of a stretch to imagine that Ana would be capable of the violence in the movie’s final act — it’s almost as though we’re missing a part of Ana’s unraveling in the transition from acts two to three — the fluctuation between roleplaying fantasy and reality is so luscious that it’s hard to judge harshly. Amer’s abstract, voyeuristic, and nearly absurdist take on giallo’s sex-death cycle captures the agony and ecstasy of the genre’s fetishistic symbolism. If death is an orgasm, this is it.