Film Review: Amer

Were <i>Amer </i>(&#8220;bitter&#8221;) a mass-market movie, it would be polarizing. But it&#8217;s aimed squarely at fans of the baroque, 1970s-era Euro-thrillers known as <i>gialli</i>, and within that small but loyal niche demographic it&#8217;s a sure

Drawing heavily on the sumptuous visual aesthetic of directors such as Dario Argento, Sergio Martino and Mario Bava, Amer is a psychodrama in three parts, each segment bristling with both menace and erotic promise.

In part one, curious little Ana (Cassandra Foret) rattles around the cavernous, isolated villa where she lives her parents (Bianca Maria D'Amato, Jean-Michel Vovk) and paternal grandparents, (Delphine Bruel, Bernard Marbaix). The death of Ana’s grandfather sparks a family crisis: As his body lies upstairs, Ana’s mother and grandmother become locked in an obscure battle of wills. Ana takes to roaming the house at night, peering through keyholes and hiding under beds; the things she half sees and overhears are both intriguing and terrifying.

In the second segment, Ana (Charlotte Eugène-Guibeaud) has blossomed into a sullen, lush-lipped teenager. A trip to the beauty salon with her mother awakens Ana to the effect her newly ripe sensuality has on men. Again, she’s both aroused and frightened.

The film concludes with the mature Ana (Marie Bos) returning to her now-deserted childhood home, where she’s terrorized by a mysterious stranger.

Amer is less a neo-giallo than the distilled essence of gialli, a cocktail of violent sex and sexy violence, beautiful bodies and grotesquely deformed minds, perverse crimes and criminal perversion, black leather gloves and straight razors, eyes and throats, scopophilia and exhibitionism. Viewers looking for a straightforward erotic thriller should go elsewhere: Whether Amer seems seductively elliptical or annoyingly incoherent comes down to individual tolerance for mysteries rife with creepy suggestion and short on “who did what to whom and why” specifics.

But for the converted, Amer is a blood-spattered smorgasbord of cult-movie delicacies: Belgian filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani cram their feature-film debut with so many cult-movie treats, from the surreally saturated lighting to a mix-and-match score that seamlessly combines the best of Bruno Nicoli, Stelvio Cipriani and Ennio Morricone’s exploitation-movie music, that fans will want to savor every sinfully rich bite.