Amer (2009)

I can just envision those critical of this tossing out “artsy fartsy” and “pretentious” to describe just why they found it intolerable. I do think the work of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani is an acquired taste, because they’re very heavy on visual aesthetic and emphasis on sexualized imagery. Amer is often described as a giallo, but I’m more keen to consider it a sexual awakening film shot in the Dario Argento style of intense color and tempered towards highlighting the mundane in a way that is elaborate, in your face, pronounced, and compelling.

Walks are typically just that. But in a Cattet and Forzani movie, they look at Ana and make her blossoming into an adult the focal point of what is a walk with her mother to the beautician for a hair coloring and blow dry. A motorcycle biker and Ana lock sight after a run for a soccer ball opposite a kid on the street near the beautician’s shop, a store owner’s wrinkled eyes lustfully peering at Ana as she arrives, and before this a car passing Ana and her mom with his eyes following them. Faces are extremely important to the directors, with the entire body sometimes accessible to the camera. Ana, as a child (Cassandra Foret), curious and inquisitive, listening to conversations between her parents, spying on not only them but the distanced grandmother (considered a “witch”) always in a black veil hiding her face, slipping into a room housing the dead grandfather (!), stiff, arms folded, face in make-up, hands cupped with timepiece locked in fingers, and a crucifix nearby. Grotesque inclusion of eyes open multiple times as if keeping tabs on his granddaughter as she tries to swipe his watch, and the grandmother grabbing Ana, gloved hands clutched around her mouth, the black veil as vexing as a valley of tall grass nearly inescapable. Fleeing right into the room where Ana spots her mother and father engaged in coitus. This sets off a shock and awe reaction that elicits a full-color display as if Ana experiences an acid trip (incredible use of green and red), seeing mom and pop in a sense that is hard to shake free from.

A taxi ride where a leather-gloved, enigmatic, steely-eyed, middle-aged cool customer with silver hair and intense face taking Ana to her abandoned chateau on the French Riviera is communicated as a sexually magnetic affair…Ana (Marie Bos), hot, uncomfortable, and frustrated, she insists that the driver open a window so she can stick her head out and embrace the wind across her face. This loses itself into a scenario where close-ups convey a dress with spreading, sweaty legs, the driver’s eyes gazing intensely occasionally at Ana with her noticing and trying to reject his gaze through moving about in the back seat, her shaded eyes and scarf-hair covering eventually free as the face erotically inherits the wind. The dress starts to rip, with the stitches pulling apart, until the car comes to a stop, Ana’s breast momentarily exposed before we see that it was all a bit of fantasy…she’s fully clothed with just her hair hanging wildly, startled by the realization she’s not naked before this man she doesn’t know. 
The return home as an adult, with the walls containing craters, ceilings decaying, the windows fractured with as many holes as glass, creaking doors that open and shut as the wind dictates, overgrowth of green surrounding the chateau as if a mob with torches around Frankenstein’s Monster. Later Ana will be met with a possible hostile looking to maybe “spend some intimate time with her”.

The use of the leather gloves and handle straight razor, up against flesh, the sounds of such, are distinctive. With the hallucinatory shock of seeing her parents fucking, Ana is never the same. She always seemed to be a little weird even before this. Aware of how the guys looked at her as a teenager, and the taxi ride to her old home, all of this heightened sexual presence always there with Ana unable to shoo it away. The film features Ana familiarizing herself with the chateau again, up and down stairs, opening closets, seeing a sculpture across the hall which from a distance looks like an intruder, passing by paintings on the wall (first with eyes seemingly looking intently on their returning family, later cut from the canvas, but by whom?), re-introducing the sights and sounds of the place to herself, studiously returning to a balcony to see if the winding road has a car or two in the vicinity, and cautiously walking the rounds just wondering if someone might be in her midst. That fear could very well manifest itself and feel very real even if not. Like her in the bathtub with no water available when she turns the faucet. The incredibly arousing use of a comb by Ana, caressing her lips and neck (the sound of it is as vital to the effect as the sight of her using it), and how the sound of it goes from erotic to alarming. As she enjoys the comb, water just begins to pool under her legs, eventually submerging her body. Then an undefined figure tries to drown her. That’s the rub: we can’t always believe what we see, and the directors apply a visual style to create doubt about what is real and imagined. Not long afterward, there’s a possible intruder looking for some company…he came to the wrong place. Arms sliding on the leather gloves methodically as the taxi driver carefully trespasses on the grounds. He looks worriedly for any signs he’s been had, and as Ana moves around the trees and bushes, the gloved figure in a ski mask hiding *his* face is not far behind her. The swift sound of bodies moving, grass wafting, feet scooting, all in the night, as the taxi driver investigates what is noising on the property. She’s out there, and supposedly so is another. The taxi driver might just meet them…or are there actually two?

The film certainly wants to create a chase even after the taxi driver meets the wrong end of the blade. The blade is wielded with definite precision and its smooth operator antagonizes and toys with the taxi driver who is cut over and over, one strike nearly gouging his eye (the blade gliding across the eye lashes is quite a sound, and how it feels the flesh before cutting, as the camera shoots so close you feel as if you are the one in charge, adds an extra level of potency to the scene), as the point taps delicately on the Adam’s apple of the throat. And ultimately Ana confronting the figure supposedly after her, exhausted and unable to run from *him* anymore. On her knees, one strike to *him* leads to the final sequence: the hands of a coroner straightening out her body. What makes that so unusual is how sensual her body being tended to is presented. Her hardened nipples, her liberated expression, the soft, white flesh; Cattet and Forzani want to make even Ana’s final moments seductive to us.