Sex death and black gloves – the giallo is back in Amer. John reviews the UK blu-ray
Many a fan of the Italian Giallo has found themselves scratching their head at insane plotting, baroque twists and completely unexplained camera work. Others have had to check their principles to see how they can coexist with misogyny and the destruction of feminine beauty for masculine pleasure. For even its most unapologetic supporters, the Giallo is like a flashy friend who you put up with for occasional flashes of brilliance amidst severely unreconstructed and Neanderthal behaviour.Yet, a bit like the vampire film, it contains a very strong and true insight to our more basic physical needs. With bloody deaths, desecrated corpses and sexual incitement and transgression littered around the screen, the Giallo reveals both the imperative and the frailty of our flesh. In particular, the desire to consume this corporal entertainment through the windows of our soul is explored and brought to light for the attention of the guilty viewer.
Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet’s obsession with the Giallo has spanned a number of short films, many contained here, and made its way to the big screen in Amer. Amer follows three moments in the life of Ana as child, adolescent then woman. In the first, the young Ana takes a Lewis Carroll like journey into the death chamber of her grandfather, complete with vivid red lighting a la Suspiria. The second has a somewhat sultry Ana soaking up the male gaze on a trip to town with her mum, accompanied by the Stelvio Cipriani score from Rabid Dogs. Finally, a grown up Ana returns to her very Deep Red like family home complete with maddening taxi ride and black gloves and razor blades.Now admiration for the films I mention is no crime, in fact it is evidence of a kindred spirit and I welcome the filmic literacy in Amer. Where the work departs from its inspirations though is in its self conscious exploration of the feminine and the construction of a Giallo woman. This main purpose of the piece replaces narrative and feels more like a character study in three parts rather than the hysterical whodunnit of the originals.
This will therefore frustrate fans of the genre wanting more of the same, but delight those of us who are still integrating the dilemmas of sexual politics I mention above. It might be chauvinist of me to mention it, but this is perhaps due to the different perspective of co-directors not driven by Italian identity or the masculine mechanics of the original film factory of the seventies. In that sense, the film shares more with those who have tried to unpick the erotic in an intelligent way, film-makers like Patrice Leconte and I would argue Argento himself.What I liked most about Amer was how this journey of sexual identity was almost entirely told from a feminine sympathy, with a constant sense of voyeurism and of the hunted and the hunter. In its most hysterical forms, the Giallo boiled down to murderous desire pursuing its appetite and here Ana finds herself through the same route. The question of whether Ana’s awakening is an internal battle, allegory or reality is not entirely clear and that is a rather brave and sanguine place for the directors to leave their story.
Amer is not without weaknesses, the three sections do feel like individual short films and the obviousness of some of the homages will provoke accusations of filmic theft. The main criticism could be that it is all remarkably vague and without definition, an essay rather than a story, but perhaps that is also the work’s strength – to embrace the Giallo conventions and then reject them to assert its own ambiguity. Amer is heartily recommended.
Amer seems to be released on a BD25 which is region B locked. Amer is presented in its original aspect ratio and given a file-size of 17.8 GB with two lossless audio options to choose from. Visually the transfer reminded me a lot of the Anchor bay release of Rabid Dogs which is presumably what the film-makers were looking for given the referencing of that film here and my assumption that this release is faithful to their wishes. The graininess of the film is retained, the detail is good but not outstanding and the only real issue I have is with the contrast with black levels occasionally too uniform. One of the joys of Amer is a very heightened use of sound and effects and it is rather good to have two lossless options here to choose from to appreciate that. Personally, I noticed little in the way of difference between the stereo and 5.1 tracks when processed across my 5.1 system. In the surround mix, some effects appear in the rears and side channels and there is a little added directionality in this respect. The optional English subs for the sparse French dialogue are very well done in terms of grammar, sense and readable font.
All of the discs special features are included in 1080I with the very short teaser and trailer being the only extras related specifically to the film itself. The rest of the inclusions are very welcome indeed with four short films accompanied by text insights into why and how they were made. All of the films show an obsession with the mechanics of the Giallo and there is a growing technical proficiency as Cattet and Forzani develop their crew and ideas. Not all of the films are successful and the cinematic borrowing is even more obvious but compared to the usual inclusions of dumb featurettes these are very generous and interesting extras.
A strong release of a welcome film. Giallo fans who want a more feminine approach will enjoy an intelligent project shot as a labour of love.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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