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Amer (A Movie Review)

Updated: Oct 19, 2023



AMER (2010)

Starring Marie Bos, Harry Cleven, Charlotte Eugene Guibbaud, Cassandra Foret, Bianca Maria D’Amato, Delphine Brual, Sylvain Giraud, Bernard Marbaix and Jean-Michel Vovk.

Screenplay by Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani.

Directed by Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani.

Distributed by Olive Films.  90 minutes.  Not Rated.

Amer treads on the tricky path where art film meets horror – and this Belgian/French movie succeeds at it surprisingly well.

A loving tribute to 70s Italian horror merchants like Dario Argento and Mario Bava, it is similarly obsessed with the figurative intersection between sex and violence.

Amer is a quiet and somewhat disorientingly cut – with lots of quick cutaways, close-ups of eyes and specific body parts, moving in and out of focus and shifts of garish colors in lighting.  Amer even uses background music directly from the older films.

Amer (which is the French word for “bitter”) is endlessly symbolic and often quite surreal (a teasing shot of a straight razor just above an open eyeball is an obvious tribute to Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel’s classic surrealistic short film Un Chien Andalou).

It is a very quiet film.  I would be surprised if there are 50 lines of dialogue in the movie and the main character (portrayed by three different actresses over three periods of her life) probably utters less than ten the whole time.

The movie opens in a beautiful-but-spooky old seaside manor in Belgium.  An eightish-year-old named Ana (played by Cassandra Foret) has to deal with a bitchy mother, an odd veiled woman (her grandmother? Her nanny?) who is in the next room and peeking in her keyhole, a dead man who may be her grandfather (and may still be alive), dead birds, magical powders, trickling water, rancid food, seeing her parents have sex in garish colors, odd sounds, shuffling shadows in the night and a haunted pocketwatch which seems to be trying to drag her to hell.

It all makes absolutely no sense, and at the same time it is supremely creepy.

Flash forward six or so years.  The darkness of the earlier scenes has been replaced by a sun-kissed kitschy aura and is accompanied by swinging sixties sax.  Ana (now played by Charlotte Eugene Guibbaud) has ripened into a sulky budding sexuality.  She and her mother walk up a shore road to a local village so mother can get her hair done.  The camera follows them voyeuristically, the lens ogling Ana’s light cotton sundress, peeking under her skirt and at her budding breasts.  Ana is trying to come to terms with the new power she has over men, teasing a young boy with a ball with her poutiness and then finding herself surrounded by a local motorcycle gang, which she tries to negotiate through while the palpable sexual tension is stifling.

Then we move forward another several years, where Ana as a grown woman (Marie Bos) returns to her abandoned old family mansion and gets into a violent showdown with a surly cab driver.

As I said, the story makes little sense, but it’s really not supposed to.  The movie is more concerned with mood and disorientation than it is with straightforward narration.  In fact, writer/directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forlazi’s schizophrenic camera and cutting style is somewhat similar to Oliver Stone’s everything-goes sensory-overload style in Natural Born Killers – though it works to better effect in this quietly disturbing film than it did in that loud, overblown gore-fest.

I honestly don’t know what this means, but while I was watching the DVD screener of the movie, my cat was sleeping beside me and when the climax occurred she got up and sat there, riveted, staring at the television – and she never, ever looks at the TV.  Undoubtedly that was due to the eccentric and choppy editing and sound effects of Amer more than the story, but is still a pretty neat trick for a movie to pull off.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: November 6, 2010.

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