Tuesday, 11 January 2011



Deep down, we all love a bit of giallo, don't we? Even if it's giallo-lite: the low-cal, flat vanilla giallo represented by ITV's indefatigable Poirot and Marple and Inspector Barnaby (the worst detective in history, solving all his serial murder cases through the technique of Last Man Standing). Add some nudity and kinky sex, plenty of blood and bonkers camerawork (all Dutch angles and coloured filters, and Sergio's your uncle: slip on some black gloves and you've got yourself a giallo. That's the basic recipe, although it's as much about the mood and style as it is about the content. I'd suggest you can't have one without the other and I've always felt that a film is only a proper giallo if it's got both the style and the content - ITV's whodunnits have the plot but not the stylistic excess; with this film it's the other way around.

Amer is a Belgian giallo pastiche: an experimental mood piece that pretty much does away with plot and narrative entirely, coming across as three short art films loosely bolted together, detailing three key moments in the life journey of a young woman from childhood, through the teenage years to adulthood. That is literally all there is to it in terms of any story Amer is trying to tell. But while Amer might (indeed, does) lack any kind of narrative, it is without doubt one of the most sumptuously photographed films in decades. It is so rich in colour and so exquisitely composed that more or less any frame could be hung on your wall or in a gallery. As a piece of visual art it is absolutely breathtaking. And as much attention has gone on the audio: the soundtrack is wonderfully conceived as well. Musically it has no original score but some licensed tracks from Bruno Nicolai, Ennio Morricone and Stelvio Cipriani (incidentally the Cipriani tracks appear to be from cop thrillers rather than gialli).

I don't want to criticise a film for not having a strong narrative when it purposely didn't set out to have one: it's like slagging off the new Woody Allen movie for not having any car chases, and if I'd known in advance it wasn't a plot-driven film I'd have possibly approached it differently. In that respect I guess it's partly my fault that I didn't engage with Amer as thoroughly as I'd hoped. But I never want to have read too much in advance of any film and in any case I suspect I would still have been somewhat frustrated by the lack of a story. Of the three segments, I feel the first is the strongest, in which the young Ana is apparently menaced by a sinister figure in black, on the night of her grandfather's death and the night she witnesses her parents having sex. The film sags in the second one, in which the teenage Ana does little more than innocently (but really, how innocently?) tease a group of bikers, but the climactic section, with the grown-up Ana returning to her now derelict childhood home and apparently being menaced by a taxi-driver is better as there's definitely a sense of something happening.

I didn't hate Amer, I honestly didn't. It's as much a case of it not being what I expected it to be as it was a case of it not being what I wanted it to be. It is unbelievably gorgeous to watch, but you could have taken that stylistic approach and applied it to a short film of Ana making a cup of tea and opening a letter from the bank. It's an art movie, and on that level it's wonderful, but if you want a plot to go with it you won't find it here.


No comments: