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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Amer: Sexual-eye-zed

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You often hear the term style over substance thrown around within the verbal and written persuasions of cinema speak by genre fans. I feel like that statement is a bit tricky. In my opinion, substance can mean many things when pertaining to cinema and that term is, at times, almost used as a descriptive crutch. This really comes into play with co-directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's Amer, a French language Belgian film that takes much of its stylistic influence from the earlier works of Dario Argento (among other Italian influences), who WAS a director often cited as the definition of style over substance.

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Outside of the Argento influence, Amer is a heavy nod or, better yet, a love letter to the Italian Giallo film, a style of cinema that is known for its specific traits. Sexuality, fashion, mystery, violence, John Saxon possibly wearing a funny hat and, most notably, style. Of course, with this did come many films that would showcase bad acting, nonsensical plots and lame attempts at misdirection with red herrings. This would be where the whole style over substance thing comes in to play. Nevertheless, even when the films weren't filled with "substance," what the genre did more often than not was to tantalize the viewer. Whether it be with beautiful women, intricate sound design, amazing scores and a visual pallet that would often keep the viewer biting the tip of their thumb.

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Amer captures all of these attributes (as well as a bit of the 3 B's - boobs, blood and black gloves) and carries them up a few levels, however, the film is far from a typical Giallo. It avoids a distinct narrative to show the journey of a woman throughout the span of her lifetime. Told in a vignette fashion, Amer's sole focus is Ana (played by three actresses: Cassandra Forêt as young Ana, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud as teen Ana and Marie Bos as adult Ana), who is shown during three key stages in her life. Ana is a female that is intrigued by the world that surrounds her. Living under an oppressive mother, she is forced to live in what seems to be a fantasy world. A place where curiosity mixes with sexuality and fear.

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Amer doesn't follow an actual story line so much as it creates a series of moments for Ana. Moments that are so intricate and pronounced, that it's difficult not to be swept up in them. Ana's journey is told through incredible editing and camerawork, with a seductive sound design that will do no less than draw one into each little moment even further. Sounds of doors creaking, the scuffing of a bare foot on a wood floor, the stretching of a leather belt. It's all there to bring the viewer in at full attention. Amer is an exercise in pure unadulterated style and the way in which it is put together is simply masterful. The use of gels, perspective, editing and points of illusion, all of which are draped over a set design filled with a tangible worn-out texture.

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Within the bookends of what has tones of a horror film - outside of the tense and eerie (and very psychedelic) first act and the few brief moments of intense brutality at the end - Amer does much more than try to scare its audience. Amer is a movie about a girl that is quietly fascinated and curious about, among other things, sexuality. In many ways, Ana is sensual creature without even having to try and that is much like the film itself. Amer is, quite frankly, the sexiest movie I have ever seen, and it's done so all with technique as there is little to no nudity or sex. It's created with little touches, slight movements from the wind teasingly being flirtatious with a skirt, or a piece of hair breaching Ana's overly succulent lips. This is a film that seduces the viewer as even the tiniest of detail is driven by a sense of arousal. It's film foreplay that dances with the excitement that can come from both sex and fear.

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Many will not enjoy Amer for its style over substance appearance, but sometimes substance is something that has to be worked for by the viewer, not served up for easy consumption. As an exercise in art-house experimental cinema that is meant to engage its audience with both a visual and audio assault, Amer will certainly alienate many filmgoers. If you love Gialli, then you will certainly enjoy the nod to the genre with how the film is crafted as well as the wonderful score compiled of songs that will ring familiar to Giallo fans. If you have an intense love for style and technique, this is a film that will bring you into the story using those attributes in a way unlike any other. If you have patience and don't mind being asked to fondle through subtext, you will enjoy the ponder that comes with Amer.

9 comments:

  1. that looks crazy, that music is like the underlying music to halloween 3: the season of the witch...

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  2. The visuals look simply amazing, as a Giallo lover myself this should be right up my ally. Heading off to add it to the wishlists dude

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  3. So you totally sold me on this one. Awesome review, Matt! I'll be checking this one out.

    Btw, I love the new layout!

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  4. Zombie: It's a great song, indeed. It's from a 70's Euro Crime film titled La polizia sta a guardare and was also used in Death Proof. All of the music is great in the film, but that is one of my favorite tracks. And Season of the Witch is bad-ass!

    Carl: Yeah, if you love Gialli, you should dig this for its aesthetic, just be aware that it is very artistic. It would be difficult not to like it for the visual style alone, though.

    Ashlee: Thanks! I think you would absolutely love this film, Ashlee. If you get the chance, see it and write about it so I can know what you think!

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  5. The GGTMC boys said some amazing things about this one. And after reading your thoughts, I must view this.
    PS: this is one of your most beautifully written posts.

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  6. Stop it!! Yeah, I'd been wanting to see it for quite some time, and after hearing their review, I knew I couldn't go too long before I watched it. I think knowing what you're getting into first helps with the viewing, too. No specific and outlandish expectations to be met.

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  7. Yeah I've heard mixed things about this one, but personally I'm really looking forward to seeing it. I'm a fan of style over substance but it totally depends on who's doing it. Some filmmakers just don't get it, whereas the Mario Bavas and the Argentos have (had) a way of using the visuals in a sort of poetic manner. One of my favorite directors of all time, Kenneth Anger, was pretty much ALL style and no substance whatsoever. Whether AMER does it well or not remains to be seen but I can't wait to find out.

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  8. I also can NOT wait to see this!! The music, the style, the atmosphere. THIS is why I love giallo movies. I reckon this movie is going to do for gialli what Argento's 'Giallo' SHOULD have done; that is, spark a big resurgence of interest in the sub-genre.
    By the way Matt, big congrats on your nomination over at Total Film. Well deserved. You got my vote. :o)

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  9. Aaron: I think with your specific taste, you should enjoy it. The style is so well done and in your face that if you enjoy that type of abrasive stylistic filmmaking, it's quite incredible to watch.

    Also, I have never seen any Anger films, but have really wanted to after hearing the CD episode where they covered a bunch of his shorts.

    James: It really captures the essence of using a character as a driving force physically to tell a story visually. Something I always love about Giallo films are how there are those quiet moments that are driven buy the imagery on screen, as well as the sound design, and Amer is that to a whole new level.

    Thanks for the congrats and the vote, too!

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