Tuesday, October 4, 2011

AMER - A Bitter Pill to Swallow

French film-collaborators Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's supremely self-assured feature-length debut hits dvd and blu-ray this week.  Channeling the nervous energy and visual-style of the classic giallo, Amer lovingly remixes the elements of that Italian-horror sub-genre in a manner that brings to mind Quentin Tarantino's career-long use of grindhouse schlock to inspire and inform his work.  Cattet and Forzani, like Tarantino, have clearly absorbed their inspiration, even going so far as to construct an aural accompaniment to the film made up of music works from classic giallos.  The end result of their sampling from that very specific toolbox is a film that aesthetically pays tribute while intellectually interrogating the conceptual trappings of that original source.

Whereas, for instance, the films of Dario Argento openly accept and hyper-utilize the nearly standardized leering found within cinema (especially horror cinema) as it displays and thus mediates and broadcasts uniform (and, one should note, almost exclusively sexualized) notions of the female body, Cattet and Forzani adopt the gaze (a quick primer on feminist film theory and the male gaze here) as a means of challenging the presumptions inherent within both the form and the audience itself.

Constructed of vignette-like segments that chronicle the life of a woman named Ana, Amer follows her transformation from a curious child into the particular type of oversexed woman that typically populates trashy, b-grade European cinema.  The filmmakers exploit this (over)familiarity with lurid depictions of gender to steer us towards assuming that this will be just another giallo in the tradition of Argento, Bava, Fulci and their peers.  Yet the biggest surprise about Amer is its dogged resistance to being a by-the-numbers horror film.  If there are aspects of horror contained within this work, it is the horror of being both the unwilling victim and active manipulator of the gaze, constantly held fast within an atmosphere of potential violence predicated upon one's habitation of a gendered body and the expectations that are thrust upon it.

The result is a fairly confounding concoction of psychosexual titillation mixed with a rote ramping up of tension that tricks the viewer into expecting a violent release at the end of each sequence.  Instead, the filmmakers deny the audience the expected relief, extending the anxiety beyond each of the micro-narratives embedded within the larger piece.  To a certain extent, Cattet and Forzani have it both ways with Amer, exploiting the viewer's weakness for this particular flavor of naughty cinema while actively scolding them for being drawn in by its depictions of raw female sexuality.

And it's the straddling of that line that will lead many viewers to call out the film as being merely sexist pap.  More discerning viewers, especially those who have already digested a good deal of 60s and 70s Italian horror, will likely find themselves peering a bit deeper into what Amer has to offer.  Beyond its magnificent combination of visual and montage techniques, the film reaches beyond mere stylistic flair to grapple with some fairly heady and provocative content.  I, for one, cannot wait to see what these directors come up with next.

Remember to find and "like" us on our Facebook page.
Subscribe to the blog's feed here.

Welcome Back...it's raining again in PDX

Hey, it's been a while.  This lil' experiment in blogging got put on the back burner for a number of reasons.  My wife and I are having a baby in less than a month.  I've been working on a really exciting non-fiction film project.  And there's the day job, of course.  I'm sure that anyone reading this can identify with how quickly time disappears if you let it.

My love of movies certainly hasn't diminished; just the amount of time I have to go out to see them.  To that end, when I do find the time to blog, the content that is discussed here is likely to include home video and television, as well as the occasional first-run theatrical stuff that had previously been the exclusive subject of this site.  I figured I'd open it up a bit and maybe that would make it easier to post more often.

So, um...welcome back:

This whole notion of "opening up" the style of the blog will likely include shorter, topical postings, as well as a few longer ones here and there.  If I encounter an online article about the decline of 3D cinema, for instance, I might post it, jot down a few thoughts of my own and invite others to comment on the topic.  As soon as this entry goes live, I'll go ahead and enable comments for all posts on the blog (a feature I'd previously kept disabled), so feel free to comment on this or any future (or past) posts.

As for the first regular review in many months, I'll be uploading a look at Amer, which is making its dvd and blu-ray debut this week.  It should be up within the hour, so keep an eye out for it.

And, finally, it'd feel weird to not at least mention a couple of pop culture crumbs that I've run into and enjoyed lately, so--briefly--here we go:

The NW Film Center recently hosted a four-night run of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "lost" 1973 sci-fi epic, World on a Wire.  I happily rejected the opportunity to see (the seemingly ubiquitous) Drive in favor of the catching the limited run feature...and, MAN, was it worth it!  I'll probably post in more depth about World on a Wire in the future, either soon or when it hits blu-ray and dvd next year.

I also caught a mid-August showing of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 Stalker (also at the NWFC).  It's long been my favorite film by the Russian master but I'd never had the chance to see it theatrically.  All those beautiful textures blown up larger than life...you can be sure that I was in heaven.

Last night, I streamed the first episode of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's latest documentary project for public television, Prohibition.  While I completely get that many people aren't down with the very much defined style that Burns has employed in his decades long career, I was drawn in by Burns usual attention to detail and his ability to unearth lost kernels of our shared national history.  The take away from episode one?  That, as is still the case in modern American life, much of what the temperance movement of the 20s and 30s was about can be linked to entrenched ideologies about how others should conduct themselves in society.  If this doesn't sound familiar, you're probably not keeping up with the news of the day.

I've also been diggin' the hell outta the new Wilco album and this compilation of tunes by Malian singer Sorry Bamba.

A quick reminder:  we're still on Facebook and, every once in a while, an exclusive post will end up on that page, so hit us up there and be sure to "like" the page while you're at it.

And that's pretty much it for now.  Like I said, keep an eye out for that review of Amer.  It should be up within the hour.  And, since those of us living in the Pacific Northwest are currently welcoming the return of old friend "the rain," I'll leave you with this:

Remember to find and "like" us on our Facebook page.
Subscribe to the blog's feed here.

submit to reddit