When it comes to suspense, horror and the fantastique, the calibre of film-making can range from slick, big-budget blockbusters to fan-made, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it, endeavours. I love them all equally but, only occasionally, does something come along that really touches me. One such film is 2009’s Amer. This meticulously crafted labour of love – the brainchild of Belgian film-makers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani – pays tribute to the the 1960s and 1970s Italian giallo (thrillers) that have greatly informed the duo’s individual artistic visions. Highly-stylised and virtually dialogue-free, Amer (meaning ‘bitter’ in French) explores one woman’s quest for sensual awakening over three stages in her life as experienced through her senses.
The first – which takes its inspiration from a segment in Mario Bava’s 1963 Black Sabbath trilogy – sees Ana as a young child attending her grandfather’s wake. Relying solely on sound effects – from heavy breathing to whispers – Cattet and Forzani create an air of unease and eerie dread as little Ana watches the family maid conducting strange rites over her grandfather’s corpse, and then is shocked seeing her mother having sexual intercourse.
The second part draws on Japanese ‘pink’ films. Now a hormonal teenager, Ana strolls into a seaside village one hot summer’s day and becomes aroused by the sights and sounds around her – in particular, the sound of the sea and of a youth playing with a ball. Originally planned as a short, this section was the springboard from which Amer grew.
The final act, in which an adult Ana returns to her family’s now rundown estate, is where Amer triumphs. After a taxi ride that turns into a wildly erotic daydream, Ana settles into the mansion. But her solitude is soon disturbed by masked men who chase her into the estate’s wild, overgrown garden. Ana’s surreal living nightmare finally comes to an end in a shocking, erotically-charged climax…
I had so much fun trying to pinpoint the film’s many visual points of reference – the mansion is a nod to Dario Argento’s Deep Red, while a runaway football recalls the Toby Dammit segment in Fellini’s Spirits of the Dead – and this from two film-makers with no formal training? Wow! As a paean to the power of seduction, Amer is a feast for the eyes as well as the senses and a wonderful example of ‘film as art’ that plays beautifully on both the big and small screens. Anyone who loves bloody good editing will lap this up and if you want to see what the Belgian Bavas did next, check out my review for their debut feature, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears.
Amer is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, and screens regularly on The Horror Channel (Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freesat 138).
The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013) | A bewitching, bewildering slice of Euro psycho horror that’s pure cinematic alchemy
Following the strange disappearance of his wife inside their Brussels apartment, businessman Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) seeks to uncover her whereabouts. On discovering a series of secret corridors and concealed rooms within the walls of the building, Dan encounters its inhabitants whose tales of sensuality and sadism play out before him…
PURE CINEMATIC ALCHEMY
Prepare to have a sensory overload because this beautifully constructed erotic horror-thriller is one hell of a ride, evoking the dark cinema of Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Roman Polanksi, and the surreal imaginings of Guy Maddin, David Lynch and the Brothers Quay. It’s the latest effort of Belgian husband and wife directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani and follows their 2009 giallo-inspired cult film Amer and their sensual O is for Orgasm offering in 2012’s The ABCs of Death.
Featuring a sublime soundtrack that plays like a greatest hits of 1970s Italian horror, a stunning Victor Horta-styled Art Nouveau apartment dressed in covetable Mid-Century modern décor, evocative photography, and some truly masterful editing, the Belgian Bavas have brewed up a bewitching, bewildering slice of Euro psycho horror that’s pure cinematic alchemy.
Danish actor Klaus Tange, who looks like 1970s Euro stars Franco Nero and Klaus Kinski, is the grizzled, twinkly-eyed protagonist who gets caught in a web of intrigue in the very walls of his apartment, which becomes more and more sinister after he steps within its inky blackness. Here, time and space seemingly collide, creating a puzzle box filled with sex, murder, childhood memories and loads of red herrings.
From its evocative, unforgettable title to its amazing execution, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is a wonderous gift to genre fans, and Cattet and Forzani have succeeded brilliantly in using the cinematic vocabulary of the giallo to create a dream film that brings to bloody brutal erotic life their unqiuely perverse vision. Truly they are the premier puppet masters of our fears and desires.
So crack open a packet of Gitanes, put another groovy Euro track on the turntable and prepare yourself for a giddy, kaleidoscopic experience you won’t easily forget.
The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is now playing in selected UK cinemas, and is available to stream at MetrodomeVOD[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYXXpT11WtM%5D