Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Let the Darionioni Nuovo entrain your Dissonance: AMER (2009)

Stendahl syndrome is a real thing and now I know because it happened to me with this experimental-narrative post-modernist hybrid fairy tale-erotic awakening giallo bit of mind-melting genius, Amer (2009). I didn't pass out but I did get a full bore panic attack mind shatter moment of pure Vulcan mind meld between image and reality. I have fallen into this film like Alice into that K-rabbit hole down through the 'David Lynch-as-a-girl twisted up with a giallo fan version of Maya Deren' Wonderland. Amer isn't just a film, it's a disintegration engine, sucking up the distance between the viewer's mind and the screen like lovers on either end of a Twizzler, swallowing towards the middle and into the blackness.

What sets Amer apart from almost all other films, and it's clear from every frame, is that it's written and directed by a male-female team, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. They come together like the reunification of the conscious mind and the unconscious. "It’s because we are a couple that we can work together," they noted in a 2010 desktop interview. "It would have been impossible to make the film with someone else. We trust in each other and we can speak honestly about intimate things. That’s why we can collaborate." That they sure as fuck can. Their names evoke their respective Italian male and French femaleness, which makes sense because there are certainly strains of Catherine Breillat as well as Argento, Antonioni as well as Claire Denis, but then again, they're Belgian... and beautiful. So that does happen.

If it helps the process, maybe have seen enough experimental cinema to check the references in advance: Antonioni-ish ur-ambiguous 'intentionally signification resistant' art, and Argento-ish European erotic fairy tale horror films from the 60s-70s, so the analytical signifiers and references can cascade upon you, the way Un Chien Andalou cascaded instantly recognizable political horror upon rioting Parisian art critics in 1929, or the Basilica of Santa Croce cascaded upon poor Stendahl. Thanks to these two kids who made this wild film, Stendahl syndrome's not just for Florentine tourists, or Asia Argento, anymore. This time it's poison L. This time they came for me.

Until mon Amer there's always been a weird dissonance, a grinding disagreement, between the iconography of experimental film and narrative film, even in Europe, where art doesn't have to be framed and velvet roped the way it does here. A mirror to this twin dissonance might be found between the Jungian anima and the Mulveyan male gaze, between Jess Franco's 1967 Succubus and Lucretia Martel's The Headless Woman. But Amer brings to this twin dissonance (experimental vs. narrative / male fantasies about what girls dream vs. female artist's impressions of girls dreaming about men) a twin serpent DNA lover's frequency that harmonizes all those dissonant tones, and the resulting unified field harmony expands wider and wider until it envelops and entrains other dissonances, widening its wave until even the most ideal sympathetic response to the film is swamped and carried off ever outward into space until the floor rises up to meet you like a wall

and then forward into panic
the image of self within your mind shatters
like Ellison's glass goblin
ancient crumbling nitrate like Edison's ghost dance.
Your crystal skull's shambling pedestal falls
to the marble Florence floor
Its eye sockets, twin gondolas, stay afloat.
Your back's hard against the couch still
watching the shards of your coil's shard's scatter,
the cards shatter off the diving board
couch in a 52 pick-up of fluttering
raven-hoofed watery wings,
and you swim


deep down, Diabolik-ish.
The floor sinks towards you like a mouth,
Betty Blue Boy blows candy canings,
the outcast cowboy burning constantly at stake

But what mouth?
Don't do drugs,
but let them do you if they wish-
it would do you honor.

And what is the difference between faking not having amnesia and not having it but secretly pretending to hide that you have it (as in pretending you know what's going on when you don't but not really, i.e. faking it even to yourself?) This is what we black-out drinkers are familiar with --easing our way into our lives each morning like we know all that happened the night before but we don't - it's an art, a bit of sly detective work as you suss out the night's events and all witnesses' remembrances of your actions without letting on you don't remember. With a level of remorse that would crush a sober man, we eye our girlfriend on the couch for signs of her displeasure, trying to fathom what we may have done to embarrass her... pretending we already know and are sorry, as we quietly (when she's in the bathroom),
and with practiced legerdemain,
spike our orange juice.

Many have tried and a few have come close to harnessing the kind of alternating current a romantic male-female directing-writing team couple can generate: Debra Hill and John Carpenter came as close as anyone with Halloween (1978) but every film has to get up from the table and go pick a bathroom sooner or later, and Halloween eventually chooses the Men's, which means John Carpenter in the limelight, Hill to the side. No film has made it all the way past the border of gender and to the boundary of the split subject, avoiding picking the man as the director, woman as producer, or writer, or vice versa --no film makes it past nationality, temper and even age, smashing through the wall between the bathroom doors and finding its own special hidden alcove. Amer isn't the male gaze or the female gaze but both gazes sliced up in long celluloid pupil Laura Mars strips and arranged in Sergio Leone eye close-up layers to form something as new as neither, something genuinely transgressive without relying on anything so paltry as meaning, story, narrative, coherence or logic... or even cheap shocks. Would your dreams ever deign to use them? Why should Amer? Instead it resists even the fundamental hazard at a guess of meaning critics might find in something similarly post-structuralist like Antonioni's Red Desert or Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon. It's something as slick and enjoyable as any modern movie but deeply entrenched in the experimental and certain to confuse or irritate anyone expecting signifiers of the real to properly adhere.

The male-female creative interaction of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani seems mirrored in the zig-zag rhythm of the shots - one step into giallo narrative, one step back along fractured dream surrealism, each refracting and reflecting the predecessor - move, countermove, and so nothing is ever clear or unclear. Everything resists a concrete interpretation but continually beguiles us into wanting one, uses that want for its own purposes, maybe even better than Antonioni did: it doesn't charge ahead like a boy with an Uzi and climax or dissolve into curios like a girl with a flower, yet if you don't run away in disgust, or boredom and if you don't dismiss it all as girly stuff or misogynist or think you don't know what's going on, and if instead you just ride with it, but remain alert and enthralled and ideally high on lack of sleep and Jung and art and Robitussin, then there it is, in its sublime perfection, the mind--both halves--inner and outer, conscious ego and unconscious animus locking into place while busting open at the same time, the unconscious's language signifiers becoming reshuffled, the normal narrative progression cracked open like a nut, the inside goodness free falling in slow motion and for a moment you and the unconscious and the images onscreen are all one - the barrier of screen and speaker between you has evaporated.

When dealing with the giallo genre in the scope of female fairy tale iconography it's important to stress that the collective as well as personal unconscious does not recognize the border between life and death, between the alive and dead version of you, the ego/soul/body/consciousness. Your dreams are the same whether or not you die outside of them - death in your bed doesn't wake you from the nightmare. The razor in the hand of the man chasing you is never just a phallus, penetration anxiety or even fear of death. It's a fear of dissolving, a loss of self, the split - you are afraid to turn around and face the demon chasing you in your nightmare for a very good reason - once you turn around and face it the demon will merge with the 'you' who stopped running, both will cease to exist and a new life will begin. Only through fear of change, or merging, of opening the self's border, does one hold onto the virginity of a tangible unchanging self. All else is transition. All of Amer is this transition - it is a coming attractions highlight reel of infinite length, the narrative arc of the 90 minute film split three ways, and from there three more.

The first such split occurs during childhood - the Freudian key that unlocks Bluebeard's secret dead bride storage: Bava's Black Sabbath, Suspiria, Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Brothers Grimm, and Valerie and her Week of Wonders. The second turns sunny and erotic with the girl on the cusp of sexual maturity: Rohmer, Betty Blue, Emmanuelle, Fellini, Blow-Up and Chabrol, and even maybe Cocteau. The third and final turns to the dark again: Argento, later Bava plus Blood and Black Lace, Soavi, Fulci... but with the jittery bipolar modern 'twang' of Antonioni's Red Desert. The eternal dance of metatexual refraction never ends even at the end. The movie becomes a male-female duel in exquisite corpse fashion, each image reinterpreting the one that came before, ever circling dark truths but resisting meaning and remaining the pinnacle of cinematic 'dream logic.'

The only way to describe what's going on is to give these kids a name that can link them with certain of their peers, so I'm calling them the Darionioni Nuovo, a group of filmmakers who have melded the experimental and deeply psychoanalytical styles and substances of Argento and Antonioni into a modern new vision for cinema, one geared towards not just the moviegoer's eyeball but their pupil, not just their ear but their ossicles, a group who refuse to label Antonioni and Godard as art and Fulci and Franco as trash, but to see each as half and half. This is a zone that we usually don't trust 'new' filmmakers with, especially not in America where everything has to be laid out with big yellow lines and breasts and 2.3 children and token minorities and police and moral lessons and zeitgeist-dictated products placed according to rating and market. But in Europe and South America and places where socialized education and less hysterical reactions towards sex and cigarettes lets the youth get super intellectual for free, there is thrives. Maybe it's their less repressive attitude towards sex that frees them from infantile obsession, helping them to make deeper movies: Berberian Sound Studio, Only God Forgives, Magic Magic, Boarding Gate, Beyond the Black Rainbow, A Field in England... but mainly or totally in this instance, Amer. Maybe they can't be appreciated, or even endured, without familiarity with the 60s-70s European horror film canon, but if you haven't experienced any of it, then what are you, un poulet? dive in to the grinder! If it don't make sense, congrats. Take some acid and try it now. If it makes sense at last then bro, you missed it.

Now when a guy, a bro, a dude tries to make a female coming of age story, no matter artsy or 'feminist' it's still a male fantasy, in the end, am I right guys? And that's a shame, because on the one hand we're not allowed to get turned on by the Blue is the Warmest Color because it's still the leering male gaze (a middle-aged man filmed it), and on the other we can't enjoy Chris Lilley's HBO show Private School Girl because our anima gets jealous (if anyone should pass as a school girl, it should be us). And when a woman makes a coming-of-age film she either lets her animus, "her master's voice" lure her into a phallus-sacrificial circle in the forest, ala Thirteen, or she projects said voice clear out of the room with the flat-age swack of a musketeer's sword (Breillat's Bluebeard). Instead of either, Amer rolls elegantly along the sharpened edge of the blade and into the 'win a free game' hole at the end. When it emerges it is, como si dice?, ready for the Lynchian eraser factory.

Counter, Paul!

And what then? The lights come in corners of this massive mausoleum of industrial space that have been dark for years. You forgot those lights were even there; you forgot the corners were even there; you forgot the machines were even there. The machines that now start whirring but you forgot what they do or what you're supposed to do to them to make them run. But people are applauding you, Nina! You didn't even know you were onstage! You've moved from being just another American whining for his phallic climax to a European calmly engaging the bivalve sensual. Now, Nina, Now! Now you really are the Black Swan. And as some trick velvet light trap choker snaps shut behind you, the concrete Basilica floor tilts up to greet you like the concrete smack of a grounding lover. And on the count of three you are back to one / true unified / split. Two/ Snap, dragon. Truth or illusion, George, at last, and for all time, there is no difference. 3


  1. FictionIsntReal17 October, 2014

    "Escape From Tomorrow" is an American movie.

  2. good point, Fictionist. I should have specified it was made in a country where education and medicine were expensive as hell -- but... um, medicine within the confines of Disney World is free? With admittance fee the equivalent of the 50% tax most socialist countries charge? Hmmm, maybe not. Anyway, thanks for chiming


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