Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Peter Strickland’s Italian horror homage, Berberian Sound Studio, has us thinking back on our favorite giallo movies.
One of the drawbacks of giallo, at least for some people, is that the long stretches between dazzlingly violent setpieces can be enervating, if not downright painful. (Dario Argento has never been able to shoot a normal conversation between two people that doesn’t make daytime soaps look like Eugene O’Neill.) Why can’t a filmmaker focus on the genre’s purely visual aspects and just skip all the useless narrative conventions? Two French filmmakers, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, did exactly that in their debut feature, Amer (the title means “bitter”), a sort of giallo remix constructed from scratch. Technically, the movie does have a story, in that it follows the same person from girlhood into adolescence and then adulthood, but that’s the flimsiest possible clothesline on which to hang a series of visceral exercises in shot composition, editing, and sound design. Amer is all dazzling all the time, which can occasionally lead to viewer exhaustion—turns out there’s a reason for those lulls, even if they don’t have to be so stilted—but more often carries you along on a treacherous current of undiluted abstraction.
Divided into three sections of roughly equal length, each of which has a distinct formal approach, Amer begins with a young girl in a dilapidated old house, spying on her parents as they squabble and screw (their arguments constitute 95 percent of the film’s little dialogue); she’s also drawn irresistibly to the her grandfather’s corpse, still laid out on his bed awaiting the funeral... or possible reanimation. The middle segment leaps ahead to the girl as a teenager, accompanying her mother to the hairdresser and engaging in frenzied flirtation with some soccer-playing boys outside on the street. In the finale, she’s a grown woman returning to the now-deserted house and being sensually stalked by a knife-wielding madman. There’s a vague thesis here on the conjunction of eros and thanatos, but for the most part the film simply riffs spectacularly on the tropes established by its forebears, including all four of the films previously discussed in this week’s feature. By distilling the genre to its essence, Cattet and Forzani (who also directed far and away the best short—“O Is For Orgasm”—in The ABCs Of Death) essentially act as critics themselves, dissecting giallo to see what makes it tick. Or twitch, as the case may be.
Availability: DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films, and disc delivery from Netflix.