Amer, a Belgian/French co-production written and directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, has been sold as a love letter to the Italian “giallo ” films of the ’70s, and so as a huge fan of that genre I had really been looking forward to seeing this one. But be forewarned – although the giallo influence is obvious, it is more in terms of style and atmosphere than it is actual structure. Anyone hoping for a giallo-esque murder mystery will be very disappointed. Heck, anyone expecting a plot will be disappointed. Since most giallo films are remembered more for their style than for their often overly-convoluted plots, it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea for Amer‘s filmmakers to concentrate their tribute on the visuals, music and mood. But there’s a point where “tribute” goes a little too far and crosses into over-the-top parody. Amer crosses that point…and then keeps driving for like ten more miles.

The film is split into three segments, each concerning a girl named Ana throughout different periods in her life. In the first, we see Ana as a young girl, living in a large house along with her parents, a strange maid and the corpse of her grandfather. This is the strongest of the three sections, as young Ana – while already in a heightened emotional state – accidentally sees her parents making love, an event which nearly shatters her mind. From this point on Ana is stalked by something. Is it the black-lace glove wearing maid, or is all just in Ana’s head? I liked this act the best because it actually feels like something is happening, and even if what is happening isn’t really that clear, it’s at least actually creepy. Plus, the film’s awesome use of color and strange camera angles during this sequence are where the movie comes closest to replicating the vintage Argento and Bava films that inspired it.

Unfortunately, the next two acts are nowhere near as captivating. In the second, we catch up with Ana as a young woman, out for a stroll through the town with her mother. Ana is clearly still repressed sexually, as every small encounter with a male – whether it be a young boy playing soccer or a gang of bikers – results in near crippling anxiety. That anxiety continues on into the third and final act, where a now adult Ana returns to her now-empty childhood home, to once again be terrorized by a familiar figure with black-lace gloves.

With it’s very sparse use of spoken dialogue, psycho-sexual themes and experimental narrative style, Amer often feels like the mother of all pretentious student films. That’s not even really my main complaint about the movie, though. I understand that this isn’t supposed to be looked at in the same way as a “normal” movie. So before its defenders start their cries of “you just didn’t get it” (the ultimate go-to defense for artsy movies like these), let me assure you that I could see the ideas at play, and could even somewhat appreciate what they were trying to go for.

The problem is that in deciding to surround those ideas with such an aggressive tribute to the giallo’s most excessive elements, the whole thing just turns into a boring, over-indulgent mess. The things they clearly liked about those films – the rich visuals, the colors, the music, the jarring editing – are so over-bearing and in-your-face in Amer that it first starts to feel silly, and then later just tedious.  The film is so obsessed with continually awing your eyes that it just rapidly leaps from one jarring image to the next. I’ll admit that a lot of the film’s shots are beautiful – a coffee-table book of images from the movie would be a tempting investment. But in motion the film’s constant edits and unnecessary close-ups become a real slog to sit through at times.

Here’s how a typical scene plays – we see Ana walking. Quick cut to a close-up of her eyes. Quick cut to a close-up of her lips. Quick-cut to a close-up of her feet. Back to her eyes. Now back to her lips, which she now licks. Now a close-up to her swinging hands. And so on, and so on, and so on. Now imagine that stretched to about an hour, and you start to get a sense of what watching Amer can feel like. As an exercise in fethisizing the female body, it’s perfect. As a movie, it often feels like a perfume or jeans commercial has somehow gained sentience and refuses to stop.

The best compliment I can give Amer is that the visuals are so striking that I kept watching through to the end, hoping for some sort of pay-off that would justify the movie’s indulgences (and my time spent watching it). That I was denied this is probably more my fault than it is the movies – I really should have known better at about the halfway point. Still, I’ve seen a lot of love for this movie online, so maybe it’s true that I just don’t “get it.” Or maybe, just maybe, this is another case of a movie trying so hard to be different and unique that a whole lot of people are fooling themselves into believing they do get it.

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