THE MANY-SIDED BLADE OF SEXUALITY: AMER (2009):
I’ll be honest: when I sat down to watch Amer (2009), dir. Cattet and Forzani, I
already had a thesis in mind. Which is a terrible fucking practice to have, because it leads to horrible guessing game filled with confirmation bias, false interpretation, and all sorts of fun, non- analytically fruitful puzzles you have to sort out with your own self. Critics are bad enough already for deciding to analyze a film instead of fully experiencing it; coming into it with a pre-conceived notion only means that you are barely watching the actual movie at all.
Still, the rough, romantic image of my thesis looked like this: sexuality, especially of the feminine kind, is a knife turned inwards. Based harshly in personal experience, it was a total projection of my own sentiment onto the rough idea I already had of the film’s premise, which maps a splintered, avant-garde version of the giallo formula onto Ana’s - who is the main character - self-conception of her own sexual journey. The big gimmick of this construction is helpful to know from the start: whereas in most giallos the masked killer is a mysterious, external threat, in this film it is heavily implied that the murderer is a projection of the protagonist’s own sexuality (right up to the point where she stabs him, landing herself in what is, at best, a clinical facility and, at worst, a morgue). From here, it’s not difficult to see how female sexuality could be posited as a concentration of self-effacing, self-destructive sentiment that leaves you clawing at your own insides, with any sexual act becoming an act of self-hate.
And indeed, though the film is rare in moments in which Ana actually engages with her sexuality, those moments are always tense with danger. Her discovery of sexual feeling is depicted as a seismic flood under an anonymous, watchful eye that threatens her from above, a situation that she must claw through layers of choking black lace to escape. When she enters adolescence, her revelation in the attentions of a local schoolboy are childish and alternate between bashfulness and a heedlessness that ultimately lands her in the midst of a
group of motorcyclists, all eyeing her beneath their tinted glasses. In the run-up to the climax of the film, Ana masturbates, and the masked giallo figure finally comes out of the shadows to push her underwater, almost drowning her.
As the film taught me, however, things are not quite so simple. Two of the three
scenes cited above are threatening specifically due to the presence of a masculine watcher, not because of anything inherently negative that Ana does: in truth, it is not sexuality itself that is destructive, but the involvement of the other in forcing and corrupting that sexuality.
Perhaps most compellingly, as an older Ana heads back to her childhood home, she finds herself captive in a sweltering taxi cab in which the driver, who is of course male, refuses to open the window for her for a long period of time. The heat of the taxi cab, which keeps threatening to sexualize Ana, whether it be through exposing the sweat on her neck or the way in which the fan lifts up her skirt, captures her in her sexuality, whether she wanted to experience it or not. It is the oft-cited male gaze that traps her, again and again, in a state of sexual apprehension that she may not necessarily want.
There is an important ambivalency here, however. Framed always as anonymous glances and patches of skin, the men in this film are largely emotionless and devoid of motivation or morals. What I am trying to say is that who is doing the sexualizing, specifically, is left unsaid: it could be that the men really are fantasizing about Ana so, but she could also simply be hyper-aware of her own sexual paranoia. Cattet and Forzani rarely focus on plot, preferring instead to bolster their films with vibrant imagery and style, making such ambivalent conclusions common in their works. The threat posed by the men
is certainly, well, threatening, but where is it coming from, really? Is it truly malicious intent, or is it just Ana’s hyper-vulnerability? Or is it, perhaps, both?
No matter what, Amer is a meditative look at the sexual tensions that exist in our
everyday lives, from childhood to middle age. In it, sexuality becomes a double-edged blade, as exemplified by the film’s chaotic and somewhat confusing ending (again, the directing duo really do focus more on suspense and vivid imagery than they do on actually clarifying what is happening). The eldest version of Ana runs through the gardens of her childhood home, chased by the mysterious, black-clad giallo figure, while the taxi driver sneaks inside the garden and creeps around, evidently looking for something or someone. It is not yet fully clear whether the giallo figure is aligned with Ana, the taxi driver, or some third entity - its association with Ana’s sexuality is really only cemented by the very end of the film - but it is certain that all three are locked in a game of dangerous cat and mouse, with each being shown wielding bladed weapons at various points during the disorienting chase. Why the cab driver is there is also never confirmed, but the few scant narrative details that are given seem to indicate that he is there with some sexual conquest in mind.
When the three collide for a final climax, it seems to be a complete free-for-all: Ana is assaulted by the black-clad figure, while the cab driver seems to be getting ready to lunge at them both, potentially to come to Ana’s aid. Yet as the conflict escalates, the man finds himself knocked down and ultimately killed by an anonymous pair of hands that most likely belongs to the giallo figure, who is subsequently stabbed by Ana. The final scene depicts her in some strange liminal space, which is either a hospital at best or a morgue at worst, hinting
at the fact that, in killing the dark figure, she was really assaulting her own self. In this way, all three elements of the film are brought together through their representative characters in a deadly battle: Ana, fending for her own peace of mind; the cab driver, a force for male sexualization; and the giallo figure, who wields Ana’s knife for her and lashes out both at the man and at herself. A deceptively double- (or perhaps triple-?) edged blade, the question of
Ana’s sexuality ends up dooming the entire group.