Masochistic Baby: Amer (2010)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 31, 2010 07:07pm | Post a Comment

Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's homage to the giallo genre was filmed on Super 16, but what I saw was from a really crummy digital source. It  looked like a theatrically sized YouTube video. There were so many of those digital Lincoln logs that Inland Empire now compares favorably to Casablanca. At times, there was little more than some blur of color being eaten by a surrounding black blob. (For the record, the digital Carlos looked a lot better than this.) So see a 35 mm print if possible. 

Style is substance in Amer, just as it was for Seijin Suzuki, who would elide generic contrivances in his yakuza action films with radical cuts and by omitting psychological development, assuming the audience would fill in the details. Cattet and Forzani take a similar approach, but because they're working within a psychosexual genre, they omit sociological filler (friends, jobs, etc.) and drive the film inwards. Freeing the narrative from external, objective constraints and a rational narrative structure, the giallo is reduced to pure primal desire, which has always been its most appealing feature, anyway. However, they more or less replace the genre clichés with ones from psychoanalytic film theory. Ana, the protagonist, likes to watch, but really wants to be watched (she, of course, sees her parents in coitus -- the second primal scene of late, the other being in Enter the Void). She wants to be captured, bound and punished, as fetishized by the recurring presence of a black glove and shaving razor. And behind every masochist is the death drive, which begins to show up early on in Ana's fascination with her grandfather's corpse. (If it weren't for artists, would we still need Freud?)  All of which is sexualized and stylized in a surrealistic montage of saturated hues, body parts and objects, conjoined by the sounds of metal scraping, leather squeaking, heavy breathing and the directors' favorites tunes from Italian cinema (Morricone, Nicolai, Cipriani, etc.). Some scenes are indeed perversely beautiful (particularly where a face gets symmetrically sliced up), but there are far too many close-ups to create any real horror or suspense. It feels like a perfume commercial borrowing from Argento instead of Resnais, with the hypnagogia of Chanel or Gucci.

To its credit, Amer doesn't interpret (interpellate) the gaze as inherently masculine. With one possible exception, the cine-eye is Ana's mind's eye view at three different stages of her development: pre-adolescence, adolescence and adulthood. Therefore, any scopophiliac urges are her own. She's the object of The Gaze, but a willing one. The ambiguity comes in with that exception I just mentioned. (If this sounds like the kind of movie that can be ruined by details of the plot, stop reading now and come back after you've seen it.)  The ending of Ana in the morgue suggests two readings: either Ana's really dead from self-inflicted wounds and the cine-eye becomes objective, detailing her treatment on the slab for the viewer alone, or her post-mortem manipulation is her fundamental fantasy, with the camera remaining in first-person. If the former, the ending violates a coherent voice and comes across as preaching against the pleasures of voyeurism. As Michael Haneke might, it says to the viewer shame on you, look at what you're taking pleasure in, see what it leads to. Well, fuck that. I prefer the latter interpretation, which is more consistent with Cattet and Forzani's obvious love of giallo and exploitation. If there's something erotic about pain, that's because it's not easy to keep sex and violence as discrete categories to explain the human psyche. Like Ana, Amer is there to be watched. If the viewer takes pleasure in looking, it's likely because he or she shares some of the erotic thrills as the fictional heroine. Viewing gialli might be a contract in depravity, but it's not an exploitative determination of the spectator's will.

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Sex (14), Scopophilia (1), French Horror (5), Violence (12), Bruno Forzani (1), Hélène Cattet (1), Amer (1), Horror (215)