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October 13, 2011


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Helen Cattet & Bruno Forzani - 2009
Olive Films Region 1 DVD

About four years ago, I wrote a piece on Dario Argento's Opera for a blogathon devoted to the close-up. Amer will certainly remind those familiar with Argento's films. Substantial portions of the images are of extreme close-ups of faces, hands, eyes, and sometimes just a single eye. Even though the poster tries to sell the film as an homage to giallo, Amer as decidedly different aspirations beyond genre expectations.

Let us not forget that the title of Argento's most famous films, Suspiria, roughly translates as "sighs". What Cattet and Forzani take from Argento is the sound of heavy breathing and the rush of wind, and jettison plot and dialogue. There is the old fashioned open razor, black gloves, and mysterious characters who seem to appear and disappear at will. There are also echoes of the work of Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques, a film that helped set the stage for giallo. But also some of the images will recall Bunuel and Dali's Un chien andalou, and Jean Cocteau's Orpheus and/or Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising. It may well be that the reason Amer did only limited theatrical play in the U.S. is because the film has deeper affinities with what are considered parts of the canon of avant-garde cinema. The connection to Bunuel might also be considered as his autobiography is titled, My Last Sigh.

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The wisp of a story is in three parts. Ana is first seen as a young girl, hiding from her parents, and also from a woman clad totally in black, face covered by a thick black veil. Through some distantly heard bits of dialogue, it is understood that Ana's grandfather has died. Ana is alone in the room, with the desiccated body of the grandfather. Coveting the pocket watch clasped in his hands, Ana pries loose the watch with a crucifix, dislocating one of the fingers. Like most of Amer, there is no graphic horror in the scene, instead relying on silence, and the dread of being alone in a room with a corpse.

The adolescent Ana exudes a promise of sensuality with close-ups of her full lips, and a breeze that constantly threatens to lift up her short dress. A runaway soccer ball could well be Cattet and Forzani's little nod towards Mario Bava. In this case the ball leads Ana to a gang of bikers who gaze upon the still too young beauty.

Finally, an adult Ana returns home, to a crumbling mansion. The cab driver appears threatening with his black leather gloves. Ana may or may not be alone in the house. Portraits that seem to observe Ana are seen again the eye slashed out of the canvases. Ana seems to move in and out of nightmares where she may, or may not, be the victim.

The more direct Italian connection is in the soundtrack, with pieces by Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and especially Stelvio Cipriani. What is more notable is that the music is used sparingly, unlike most giallo films which propel the mood and the story with music.

The DVD includes five short film made by Cannet and Forzani which use visual and narrative ideas reworked in their debut feature. Like Amer, there is little or no dialogue, and usually what dialogue does exist does not really explain anything. Even though Cannet and Forzani are abundantly clear about the filmmakers that have influenced them, their smartest decision in Amer was to concentrate on mood and atmosphere. As much as I love classic gialli, many of the films are saddled with plots and narrative twists that make little sense. Amer is best enjoyed by surrendering to the (il)logic of a dream.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 13, 2011 06:45 AM