Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Halloween 31 For 31: Amer (2009)


Dirs. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani

With Amer, the sensitory experience is of the most importance. There is a story to the work that adds to its content, split into three segments. A young girl (Cassandra Forêt) is terrorised in her own home when she takes the pocket watch from her recently deceased grandfather. Segment two, when she becomes a teenager (Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud), depicts an incident in a summer afternoon. The finale, as an adult (Marie Bos), involves her being stalked by a razor welding maniac in her old family home. While the film varies between different story types, the trait that was picked up on and ran with was its inspiration from the Italian giallos, murder mystery films, from the symbology to music from the original movies being reused. Out of the directors' two feature films, I feel The Strange Colours of Your Body's Tears (2013) may be the superior of them, but along with any short films of them one could see, there is a very oneiric tone to their work. There is a nightmarish feel to their films, including Amer. The exception within this film, depicted in a more realistic tone, is in the second segment as the centre character, as a bludgeoning young woman, goes with her mother to the hairdressers, far from horror but all about the perception of being a teenager in an everyday environment, as fixated on what she sees, like the grey in her mother's hair to the leather jackets of bikers, as it is the same on her by lustful men. The other segments are far more hallucinatory, the first a supernatural domestic horror that contains the most dreamlike imagery, the final piece about a killer and when the film becomes violent and much more unsettling with its imagery.

The film is heavily stylised, but it is also apparent, while there is a luridness to the material, that an avant garde flair is there which drastically recalibrates the giallo and horror related tropes being used into a collage of colour, image and sound. In lieu of the directors having released a second feature, The Strange Colours of Your Body's Tears, Amer is also all about the surface qualities. An obsession with sexuality - from childhood to adulthood, puberty inbetween - is there throughout, from a feminine perspective and from a fetishishtic gaze, but it is a film entirely about stimulating the senses too. Is this a bad thing? There is a view that films have to have deeper meanings, that style over substance is a bad thing. But the substance of Amer is its sensitory content. It is an all-consuming work which you get the best out of from its Dario Argento inspired style with added experimentation. Scenes depicted in bright, multicoloured lighting, swathed in shadows and blindingly bright summer sun depending on the scenes. Distinct, layered diegetic sound design. Extreme close-ups, editing tricks and various forms of cinematic grammer that is meant to incorporate as many senses as possible for a film. The reason why directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have become amongst the few directors I will try to see all their work of when it's released, able to see The Strange Colours of Your Body's Tears at the cinema, is because of their maximalist style that, while gobsmacking in its cool and sensuality, is also a rare case of cinema as a medium being pushed in form to its furthest. The directing duo linger in cult cinema, the music including tracks from Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971) and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974), but they are a mere step away from full-on experimental cinema, only needing to manipulate the film form itself along with the content to get there. I wouldn't be surprised if this sort of film could push people towards experimental cinema in general, the blurring of reality, or the heightening of it in the second segment until you feel every sensation the main character feels, made accessible because of its obsession with masked killers, undead beings and women in peril. Even in a hyper fetishishtic take on Euro horror and giallo movies, to hear the sound of leather gloves in vivid detail, to see the pore and freckles on a person's face, and to have every detail, including horrible moments like a blade between teeth, be felt at its fullest is nigh on rare in cinema.

The notion of realism in cinema is undermined by how film records and separates the images and sounds from their original reality. Instead it would make sense to view cinema, even as entertainment, as a way to expand and maximalist every little in life, made up or depicting real life as a sensation to be scrutinised. Sound, sight, texture, light, even space of time should be taken into account. Some of the best films are those that veer towards the vague or the style over substance category because their obsession with detail adds the character to the films that is ignored, but if concentrated on turns them in more enriching experiences. Amer is a pulpier take on this, techniques I have seen in experimental films, from the flux of reality in Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) to the rapid editing of Peter Tscherkassky, but it still follows the ideal of making all the content heard, seen and felt on the screen. Giallos, while lurid b-movies, were ironically very well made at their best for all their sleaze and illogical plots, because the best technicians in the Italian film industry were building their foundations, music that could shuffle between jazz rock to Ennio Morricone's avant-garde pieces for The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970), elaborate close-ups to widescreen shots, and even if it could be incredibly kitsch and dated, seventies aesthetics, architecture and fashion which obsessed itself over colours and form. The melding of art and pulp is not that strange a combination and with Amer, the most nightmarish of moments, such as a little girl finding herself closed in on in her bedroom, a bath filling itself with an occupant inside it already, or the woman later in life being pursued in the final act, have added force through their heightening of the littlest of sounds or objects on screen.

Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): High
The result of this is that, in the right frame of mind, Amer succeeds in engulfing you in its world, where every object, from a woman's lips to a pocket watch are imbued with an importance. The curious thing is that I find, having learnt basic cinematic techniques in Film Studies class and watching many films, the common ways to bring a viewer into a film emotionally, that manipulate them to feel certain effects, through techniques in editing to the framing of actors usual in mainstream cinema, have become alienating to me, distancing me from them from being able to recognise the techniques and that, now, it is only films that can give me a facsimile of the sensations I could feel in real life outside a cinema, or in my dreams, that are far more powerful and technically brilliant works. A film that breaks it's reality, showing its artificiality, is now paradoxically more 'real' for me because everything within it is given importance, as one can imbue everything in front or in vicinity of you with importance too when concentrated on. Baring to clear my head of a day's stress, to unwind, cinema is now dictated by how it is going to be effected by my perceptions, not the other way round as a passive viewer, which means it can only effect me if it goes out of its way, in my case, to cause me to feel every or as many sensations as possible from it, to perceive things in the greatest detail. Traditional film grammar, found in many Hollywood films, cannot do this for me anymore because the manipulative, and that word is not used menacingly, but in how the grammar pulls your emotions to what is needed to be felt, ignores vast layers of detail the cinematic image could enrich to concentrate on that emotion.  It can be through a narrative or as an avant garde piece, but a film that concentrates more on these vast layers of detail have become some of my favourite films, and even a schlocky cult film, like the giallos being reinterpreted in this, have been more rewarding as a result. Amer and the films of Cattet and Forzani have been able to do this successfully, and in context of what cinema is, it is utterly alien to how cinema is usually made and is something completely abstract as a result.

A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
As a film, beyond the heavy description of perception I've tried to describe, this engaged viewing habit of mine, to ask for films to cause me to feel everything within them, means that I can go for the most minimalist works to, here, being an utter sucker for style. Amer's clear purpose is an experiment in sensation.  To hear the sound (including the giallo scoring music) in more detail than in most films. To feel the colours to the point, to paraphrase Carlo Carrá's The Painting of Sounds, Noises, and Smells (1913), "the rrrrrreddest rrrrrrreds that shouuuuuuut" are felt, or what would happen if you watched Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) on an IMAX screen.  To go beyond merely the fetishishtic nature of the films Amer is pastiching/celebrating to a full fetishisation of all one could perceive, from the body to materials of a pair of gloves. The result is spectacular, really bold and special for me, its three stories melding together into a perplexing take on a woman's life that, on this viewing, is made much more peculiar by how the ending for her may now be not what it seems, especially when I swore I saw eyes about to open when the end credits came up. That it is through the prism of cult Italian movies that the film is gestated from, that the directors clearly are enraptured with, is magnificently unexpected, when usually experiment cinema is seen as cold, technical formalist work, and tributes to cult films usually leave me in hives.

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