CINEMA: Through The Glass Darkly


AMER (2009, directed by Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, 90 minutes, Belgium)


A beautiful woman alone in a spooky estate. A straight razor. The creaking sounds of black leather. All the elements of a giallo, the violent Italian crime thrillers of the seventies, are present in Amer,a homage to the form made by Belgian directors Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani. But it is merely the elements that are present because this experimental film leaves much of the form missing. Originally, directors like Mario Bava and Dario Argento popularized the genre by featuring these foreboding elements in erotically-charged detective stories, usually with a police detective investigating a string of ritualistic murders of beautiful women, dressed in the latest Italian fashions.

The mystery in those films was often pretty pedestrian, what made these films stand out was the fetishistic close-ups, the nightmare logic and flurries of perverse violence. So why not chuck out the silly detective stuff and boil down the film to those moody and heart-quickening visuals? That’s just what this Belgian couple does, whittling down their “story” to a mere sketch, using a bare minimum of dialogue and leaving specifics, well….very unspecific.

We see the unnamed main character at three points in her life. As a young girl of approximately eight-years-old, as a blossoming adolescent and as a young woman. The first section finds her in a spooky estate, which contains a unloving woman (her mother?), the withered corpse of an ancient man laying in state and a barely visible figure that brings the threat of violence. The section section shows the adolescent walking with the older woman through town, unsurely drawing the attention of leather clad bikers to her sexuality with her tight, short dress. The last section brings her back to the estate as a young woman, the house now abandoned except for maybe that mysterious figure.

Cattet & Forzani (who could conceivably share directing credit with cinematographer Manuel Dacosse) have created a work of rich beauty, capturing a world of elegant objects, often bathed in the rich light of primary colors, as well as titillating glimpses of erect nipples straining to burst through clothes and the outlines of bodies seen as light shines through sheer fabric. But does the buffet of eye-candy remain so diverting that you eschew your need for the intellectual engagement a true plot provides? Perhaps for the more visually driven, for me I began to yearn for a meaning deeper than the objects alone could provide, with pretty for pretty’s sake beginning to resemble those old perfume adds that attempted to evoke “class” by mimicking the look of European art films. I would still describe Amer as an intriguing exercise because you don’t really know how something works until you take it apart; perhaps you don’t really know what details mean until you see a film with so few of them.

Amer screens tonight as part of the Danger After Dark Festival, 10pm at The Ritz @ The Bourse

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