The clue to this almost silent movie is in the title, Amer is French for “bitter”. If you believe this to be a plot spoiler then your badly mistaken, there is minimal plot here and very little dialogue and the film leads to an ending that is both baffling, thought provoking and incredibly rewarding. Being called a serious homage to early 70’s Giallo, does Amer live up to its reputation, and does it deserve to be Mark Kermode’s “dvd, or Bluray of the week”? The short answer is yes, so let’s get to explaining why.
Amer is three intense stories about one woman’s journey from an infant, to a teenager to an adult, all the while discovering secrets about her family, incredible sexual desires and finally loneliness, pain and suffering. With such a small plot involving a script that could not have been more than two pages long, it’s down to the visuals and sound to carry the story and they carry the story with such force, such ferocity you really do feel like you’re in a nightmare half the time. Out of the three stories, visually the opening story is the best, and to pick a favourite is very hard. All I can say is that the middle story, strong as it is sexually is the weakest in terms of visuals, sound and tension, but that’s not to say it’s a bad story. So, the first story is about Ana as an infant, at a guess I would say she’s somewhere between nine and ten years old. She’s living with her parents in a massive house in some beautiful rural French town on a hill overlooking the sea and some woods. The setting is stunning and we stay at this house and gorgeous surroundings for all three stories. Ana is inquisitive and like to nose around the house, and especially has a dangerous fixation with spying on her Nanny in the room next door. Graziella is the nanny, or maid, and something doesn’t quite add up as she quietly moves around the house al dressed in black and usually covering her face in a black lace head piece. Within seconds a feeling of dread and unease hits you and suddenly, and very cleverly, you find yourself feeling a tad scared. Director’s Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani have a terrible obsession with eyes, and there are lots of shots of both Ana and Graziella peaking through the key holes to their rooms. Graziella’s eye, through the keyhole, is surrounded by a bright green light, making the whole thing look unsettling and rather trippy.
Strange noises are heard of bizarre breathing that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dario Argento movie, and the use of primary colours is used very much like the Master did with Suspiria and Inferno. In fact, Argento’s influence is all over this film, especially in stories one and three. Ana spies on her maid, but also sneaks around the house, much to the annoyance of her angry Mother and Father who pays her no attention. One night Ana is running away from a strange noise, only to run into her parents’ bedroom to find them having sex, a moment in her life which could have brought on the following issues in her life. The sex scene is edited in an incredibly brilliant way of deep reds, greens and blues and the moment of orgasm on the mother repeated in each colour, it’s a fantastic move by the director’s for maximum impact. It doesn’t stop there, editing is key to this opening story, and scenes are repeated, camera’s shoot from distance to extreme close-up, jumps from one angle to another or one character to another are done quick and with head-spinning efficiency. Sound effects are amplified, like the sounds of breathing, doors opening, objects falling on the floor, dripping water etc. Ana’s inquisitive nature leads her to a off limits room, down some dark passage where her Granddad is being kept, dead and long gone, he has been looked after, cared for and covered in make-up and other items to keep his complexion. Ana finds him, and in one of the most edge of your seat scenes in horror that I have seen, she looks around the room and goes through his things. Finding a pendant in his hands, after her Mother enters the room, she hides and runs off with the pendant, this leads to a bizarre ending to the first story that has to be seen to be believed. Classic Giallo scenes involving extreme sound effects, incredible colours, almost monster like hands wearing a black lace glove, staring eyes, dripping water, screaming, demonic characters and everything you ever loved about Giallo films are condensed into a ten minute montage that quite simply takes your breath away. With such a powerhouse first story, the second story had a lot to live up too…
Sadly, the second story, short as it is, doesn’t have all the excitement of the first and is more a link to the two more extreme ends of the spectrum. It’s still a powerful little tale, but is told mostly in daylight, with no use of colours and demonic hands etc. It is a simple, strong tale of Ana as a teenager, of how her Mother is jealous of her good looks, and Ana’s sudden feelings of sexuality. We simply follow Ana and her Mother from their house to the shops, both walking in short skirts in the bright sunshine, but the camera focuses its attention on Ana, as the wind blows her skirt up, as the sweat drips down her chest, or as she sucks on hair blown across her face in the wind. A car passes with a young driver, Mother undoes a button on her top, but the driver is more interested in Ana, much to the annoyance of her Mum. At first they hold hands, then Ana cleverly escapes her Mother’s grip, only for her Mum to take a firm hold after the passing the car. A clever story with hardly any talking whatsoever: but its gestures and clever use of camera trickery that explains frustrations and sexual desires. It doesn’t help when the man in the grocery store perversely looks Ana up and down. The story leads to an embarrassing climax for Ana and with this, and the deeply unsettling events of the first story, you would expect someone of Ana’s deep passion and sheltered life to turn out a bit different…
The third story goes straight for the Giallo master class, and it’s here that Amer earns its fully deserved 18 certificate. Again, a brief moment in her life but a shocking one as Ana returns home to an empty house. Riding in a taxi, some fantastic scenes of extreme perversion from the taxi driver as his cooling fan blows up Ana’s short dress and pushes her top tight to her chest. It’s a satisfying and bizarre scene as the taxi driver does exactly what any red blooded male would do, but Ana’s dreamlike reactions take things even further, suggesting she may actually be enjoying it? Without going into too much detail, the final story does get incredibly violent for a brief moment, but we also get to see Ana showing lots of herself naked. Proof that things aren’t too good in her head, she has a bath: with no running water, she imagines the water and then manages to enjoy it even though it’s empty. Can childhood and teenage trauma really affect people to the point of living in such a fantasy world like this? Amer suggest it does, and like I said the title is the clue. The final story has all those classic moments involving the famous black gloved hand, vicious and almost unwatchable use of a razor blade, being chased in the all so glorious not quite night but very dark type of sky, rustling of leaves setting off a moment of utter terror, baffling and brilliant scenes of extreme close ups and brilliant music and sound effects.
Amer is a nightmare, an unsettling tour de force of the good old days of horror that may alienate some of today’s horror fans. Those who know and love the classic horrors of old will simply adore this tale of one woman’s journey through three key moments in her life. Even if you don’t quite follow the story, the visuals are nothing short of genius, the sound effects are stunning, and all the actor’s work wonders with what little they actually have to do. Amer is a revelation in horror, a film not scared to not exactly make sense. I do actually have to ask whether it was actually intended to make sense or not, as the plot takes the backseat so that the visuals and sounds can take centre stage. This is a work of art, a work of brilliance and a horror unlike anything you have seen in a long long time. Amer translates in French as bitter; it translates in my mind as genius.