For fans of the giallo genre that Martin Scorsese gave the shaft to during My Voyage to Italy, the director and cinephile’s four-hour documentary love letter to the Italian movies that influenced his artistic vision, there was hope that Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Amer would be a throwback as deliciously and sincerely realized as Ti West’s The House of the Devil. But directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani don’t pay their respects to Tenebre and Deep Red‘s dazzling convolutions of plot, only their subtextual goings-on. It is a love letter to the colors of Suspiria and the labyrinthian city streets of Kill, Baby…Kill!, the music of Ennio Morricone and Goblins, and the beautiful bloodletting of every men and women, however horny, who met their fate at the black, leather-gloved hand of a mysterious pervert.
Amer moves relentlessly and dissonantly, and practically sans dialogue. In a gorgeous Italian manse, curiosity threatens to get the better of young Ana, tormented by the unknowable and what it reveals—or doesn’t, as is the case much of the time here. Running from the clutches of the strange woman who catches her hovering over the body of the dead man who appears to be the girl’s grandfather, she runs upstairs to her parents only to find them fucking. The camera shows them every way but upside down, bathed in green, then red, then blue—a show of grossly horned-up excitement meant to be absorbed like a blunt-force trauma. And once Ana has dutifully internalized their freakish sexcapade (her wide eyes tell no lies), it’s back to avoiding the perpetually leering gaze—and sinister clawing—of the woman who lives in the room adjacent to her sparely furnished own. Will the pocket watch she pulls from her grandfather’s brittle clutches save her or will her veiled tormentress simply use it as a means of dragging her to hell?
Amer reveals its matryoshka doll-like intentions when a tiny ant crawls out of Ana’s navel. The camera pulls back only to show her older, traipsing along a road with her mother, ostensibly near the property seen at the start of the film. In a store, a young boy uses his bouncing ball as an excuse to rub up against the nubile, bored teenager; when the twerp loses the ball, she chases after it in anger, and when she finds it, she meets the gaze of a group of obvious male models posing as motorcyclists. Neither the men nor the girl are coherently pictured, as the filmmakers giddily abstract the landscape of the body and land, but you feel the sexual energy that passes between them like a magnetic force (even the sun makes moves on the girl, reflecting light from the metal of the hot rods onto her breasts). The girl’s slow-mo catwalk strut before the line of men is the film’s audio-visual tour de force, ending with Ana’s mother slapping the girl for either feeling lust, or maybe out of jealousy (her husband—and Ana’s father—is, after all, conspicuously absent). It’s here that you understand this kaleidoscopic freak show, indebted as much to Argento and Bava as it is to Cronenberg, Deren, and Brakhage, as a study in sexual cause and effect.
The filmmakers’ layering of colors is transfixing (the green trees against the blue sky, the red car travelling atop the white road), and in every gesture a character makes you feel the aggression of seduction, infiltration, vengeance. Which is exactly the problem with the film: Every move a character makes points to the past or is a pretext for sex, which is to say, everything means something, and by the time Ana has been confronted yet again by another sexually aggressive non-being of a person meant to represent everything from her absent father to the possibly evil grandmother of her youth, everything she wants to fuck and/or destroy, you wonder if Freud would have had a field day with all of this or if it would have simply given him a headache. Even before the film progresses to its third set piece (in which an older Ana takes a predictably sinister taxi ride to her manse and meets her doom), the film has long exhausted us with its crazy distillation of the giallo genre’s stylistic hiccups and psychosexual fixations, feeling too calculated, almost academic, in its collision of signs to be truly enjoyed.