J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

EUFF ’11: Amer

Imagine V.C. Andrews with a European accent. Though the dialogue is sparse, that is definitely the vibe of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s macabre feature debut. Billed as a tribute to the so-called Giallo genre of Italian exploitation shockers, the French language Belgium film Amer (trailer here) certainly has a Euro sensibility, appropriate in its way for the 2011 European Union Film Festival in Chicago, where it screens this Saturday.

Ana’s creepy family manor might not be the best environment for a child in her formative years. There appears to be a mad woman shut away in the room next to hers. In another room her (apparently) dead (maybe) grandfather lies desiccated. Instead of providing reassure or guidance, her mother constantly nags at her, when not having explicit sex with her father in what seems to be the only unlocked room in the house.

Her relationship with her mother is little better when the audience next encounters Ana as an adolescent in Amer’s briefest episode. Eventually, a fully grown Ana returns to the (presumably) deserted home of her childhood. Of course, once she disrobes for her bath, viewers know to expect some serious Giallo business.

If creepy atmosphere and lurid imagery are your things, then Amer is a definite go. Conversely, those who get hung-up on narrative cohesion should give it a wide berth. The rest of us mere mortals who might be intrigued by the premise should be advised, Amer privileges style far above substance. Cinematographer Manu Dacosse perfectly captures the lush malevolence of Grand Guignol productions. Yet, even with the ready stock of genre excuses, Cattet and Forzani’s screenplay has considerable issues of logic and consistency. At times, the combination of strobe lighting and rapid editing cuts even makes it tricky to discern the actual action on-screen.

Relying heavily on the three Anas, Cattet and Forzani probably get the best work from the youngest: Cassandra Forȇt. Indeed, the first episode is arguably the strongest, effectively exploiting the claustrophobic setting for gothic chills. While the third at least delivers the genre goods as well as a measure of closure, the connecting adolescent chapter is really just a big shrug.

Despite its rich look, seriously cool opening credits, and a funky soundtrack drawn from vintage Giallo films, Amer never really gets under the skin in the way a good horror movie should. Adventurous viewers will probably leave the theater scratching their heads, mumbling “I suppose that was interesting.” While never dull, there are far superior films at this year’s EUFF, including Disco and Atomic Warfare, Kawasaki’s Rose, Rabbit a la Berlin, Red Chapel, Portuguese Nun, Letters to Father Jacob and the opening night selection, Bibliothéque Pascal. For Giallo diehards, it screens during the festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center this coming Saturday (3/5) and the following Wednesday (3/9).

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