When you can’t precisely explain whether you like a movie you’ve just seen or not, like Amer from 2009, is that a good sign?
Indeed, now that I’m searching for words to explain the story, I realize I won’t do justice to this strange tale of creepiness and perverse obsession, but never mind, I’ll try anyway.
We follow three phases of the protagonist’s life, Ana, beginning when she is a lonely, careless child living in a mysterious, dark family mansion.
Despite the constant reproaches of her mother, who would only like to have fun with her lover, her childlike curiosity drives her to rummage through locks and snatch a pocket watch from the corpse of an older man lying on a bed.
But despite her youthful indifference and bravado, she too is afraid of a black-clad female figure roaming the upper floors, locked in a room with someone else (or perhaps something else), making frightening noises.
Moving forward, Ana is a still silent but still curious teenager, dressed provocatively as she accompanies her mother down a sunny Riviera street.
As she walks, feels every man’s eyes looking at these perfect legs and imagining what is hiding under that dress so light it is almost carried away by the wind.
Unable to fully comprehend the mysterious power of her beauty, Ana performs what seems like a rite of passage where she leaves behind the innocence of youth as she enters the uncertain excitement of adulthood.
Finally, in the last part of this story, Ana is now a grown woman, traveling as a passenger in a luxurious limousine as she returns to the mansion of her childhood, now uninhabited but still populated by the shadows of the ghosts of the past. What will be waiting for her behind those old doors?
The new/old style of horror mystery
Amer is one of the strangest movies I have seen, even if it was almost ignored in 2009 for an outcome as bitter as the exact meaning of the title.
It is not a straightforward story, which has much to tell even after the second or third viewing, concealing multiple meanings and leaving us with the duty/pleasure of interpreting the fascinating and mysterious events, suddenly changing to unease and even fear.
Yet, I do not think it is one of those movies that carries on a vacuous intellectualism by abusing the slow pace and rarefied atmosphere. Instead, the images flow relentlessly, disorienting us with their shameless, naive sexuality.
When one scene shocks us with a door closing in a destabilizing way, the anticipation carries different and conflicting emotions in a single plot that, despite its three theatrical acts, seems to have no beginning or end.
Directors and screenwriters Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, with their first cinematic work, construct something original that pays homage to mystery classics and horror in an experience that obsessively spies on the developments in the body and mind of the protagonist in the three purest phases of the female universe: child, teenager, and woman.
The camera lingers morbidly on her childlike curiosity that becomes discomfort and desire in her sexuality as a girl and, finally, conscious power of womanhood in the last act that, again, does not want to give explanations but instead poses further questions.
As mentioned, the style pays homage to some Italian horror masters such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento, especially in the contrast of light and shadow between episodes, such as young Ana’s white skin so exposed and vulnerable to trigger the arousal of every man she meets.
Sexuality, fear, desire and discovery
Three actresses are accompanying us on this visual and sensory journey through the different eras of Ana’s life, beginning with the very young Cassandra Forêt.
This part is an excellent metaphor for children’s childhood in a house full of adults who do not want her in any room while she insistently wanders around trying to appease the vibrant imagination of her age, even when she catches her mother having sex with her lover.
That event will be the seed of the sexual urges exploding in the second act, where Ana grows up to become the beautiful Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud in a scene that, basically, is just a long walk with her mother in the sun-baked streets.
This is where the teenage years begin, with the short dress billowing up with every gust of wind, leaving her almost naked, the desire to show herself, and shame and excitement over the aphrodisiac effect she discovers she has on men.
In the first two acts, the girl is always more or less in the company of her mother, played by Bianca Maria D’Amato, a constant presence who always claims to be in control of every aspect of her life.
There is the absence of a mother who fails to give her guidance, leaving the child/girl adrift in a world she struggles to understand, not knowing if she should be afraid or if she is instead what others should fear.
Finally, in the last act, the mother disappears, and the adult becomes Ana, played by Marie Bos, also with her own disappointments now behind her, but who now has the strength that comes from maturity and experience.
Yet she cannot resist revisiting the deserted places of the distant past, even though this may be a fatal mistake, the last of her strange life.