The intoxicated, sexually anxious, almost speechless Amer is pure atmosphere: it rips fear and desire from a narrative context, dropping them instead within the abstraction of hyper-subjectivity. Here, the strange twangs of comb-teeth impart more information—emotional information—than could any line of dialogue. The movie's all slow pans across peculiar tableaux, zooms, close-ups of eyes. It's horror cinema unadulterated, exorcised of meaning and imbued with pure feeling.
A Belgian neo-giallo that played New Directors/New Films in April, Amer (French for "bitter") is split into three sections that focus on one heroine at distinct points in her sexual evolution: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. In the first, the child wanders a mansion of ornate tiling, art-deco wallpaper and eerie portraiture, haunted by a mysterious mourner in black lace; what begins as art-house Gothic takes a leap down the rabbit hole into multihued hallucinations and frenzied nightmares after the girl steals her dead grandfather's pocket watch—from his brittle corpse-fingers—then beholds her mother engaged in the sex act.
Fast forward to her teenage years and a windswept coast, as she and her mother wander wordlessly to a village of ancient stone, where she encounters a motorcycle gang; as she passes through their gauntlet, the wind troubles her dress at the crotch. In the last chapter, a liberating but ravishing open-windowed cab-ride brings her back to the baroque villa of her youth, now in disrepair; upon nightfall, the ghost of her past appears, returning the film to the opaque fever dreams and rococo hysteria that occupied its first half hour, replete with a masochistic shadow-figure wielding a sex-punishing razor blade.
Aggressively obscure, Amer is dreamy in the purest sense, restoring to cinema a shocking subjectivity it usually lacks: without the comfort of establishing shots or contextualizing dialogue, the movie willfully denies any narrative to form; it plays out as a series of close-ups, with shots laid like the panels of a textless comic book. It's exactly what (you'd imagine) watching a stranger's dreams, or even your own, would be like: nonsensical, but stirring. The stylish production design and showy camera style self-consciously recall the films of Dario Argento, Mario Bava and others—movies from which the directors even borrow their soundtrack—but Amer pushes those tropes into nonrepresentational realms. It's like an un-chaperoned trip through memory, id and fantasy, with the guideposts removed—the lines between all three not just blurred or even erased, but made to seem as though they never existed.