Artsploitation: Fever

Andrew reviews the French murder mystery Fever.

Artsploitation, or the ne plus ultra of transgressive world cinema and modern horror, tries something a little different from their roll out with the debut of French actor/photographer turned director Raphael Neal's Fever.  Loosely reworking the true crime story of Leopold and Loeb, Fever is a quietly suspenseful murder mystery that is less about the well to do high school students who carry out the crime than the fascination it inspires in a passerby who runs into them by chance.  As the film progresses it becomes something of a playground for weirdness as the perpetrators soon begin to manifest strange behaviors in an effort to justify their motiveless crime to themselves.  

Like Michelangelo Antonioni's equally intriguing Blow-Up, the murder is almost inconsequential to the film's focus on the hedonistic pursuits by potential witnesses to find an answer that never arrives. Drawing heavily from Michael Haneke's Funny Games in terms of character design rather than bloodshed, Fever proves to be a largely captivating effort that relies on intrigue and suspicion instead of violence or chase and peril thrills.  I was pleasantly surprised by Fever for not being part of the usual Artsploitation shock and awe, instead employing subtlety and nuance with sharp cinematography and strong performances by the film's young European cast.  Unfortunately for all the twists, ambiguities and near brushes with death, there are elements which ultimately kept the first time director's film from becoming a masterpiece of modern noir. 

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Let's take for instance the film's avant-garde vocal score by French singer Camille which is the latest in a series of film soundtracks to call all attention away from the picture instead unto itself.  This approach worked when Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn scored Ravenous where the music only heightened the madness and gore ensuing.  Maybe I'm just not a Camille fan and I didn't know it yet, but not since the early 2000s with Lisa Gerrard has a vocal counterpart to the film's tonality been this distracting.  In one of the film's pivotal scenes involving one of the characters being followed, my thoughts were taken away by the music to, I'm not exaggerating, the opening theme to Nickelodeon's Rugrats.  It was too much for me and torpedoed the experience.  As previously mentioned, this is an exquisitely photographed movie with well planned placement of the camera and key close ups of the actors' faces.  Acting across the board is great for being largely understated with only moments of bombast when it was required.  I was honestly really engaged with Fever and annoyed the look at me music kept disconnecting me from it.  I'm not even referring to the ambiance or exotic percussion which did work really well, especially in scenes where you weren't sure if a violent encounter might ensue.  Those damn vocals simply sung me out of the movie, so here's hoping one day a rescored version comes out even if it's fruitless wishful thinking.

Hey mirror, tell me how pretty I am!!!

Another initial problem I had with the picture is the seeming lack of resolution and despite the aims to present the transformation of all three main characters as a result of their chance encounter are a number of frankly illogical choices.  The main heroine, an optician who is as keen on tracking down the perpetrators, is so caught up in the thrill of the moment that she doesn't bother to contact law enforcement before or after, instead going for the Nancy Drew trope with the backdrop of Brick.  Our two possible serial murderers who can neither get enough nor get caught don't do a whole lot to hide their crimes either, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs only one character happens to find.  I get that it is melodrama but it just seemed a bit silly.  Anyway, overall despite the aforementioned shortcomings and that really irritating score, Fever upon further reflection has a lot to offer in the way of intrigue and observation of how people might behave when trying to deal with accepting the fact that they may have taken a human life.  Larry Clark's Bully did this so well in the third act with the gang of juvenile delinquents letting the cat out of the bag almost immediately without looking back.  Here, the behavior by the perpetrators trying to make sense of their senseless crime are a bit closer to the extraterrestrial weirdness in Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth but I suppose I mean that as a compliment. In the end, the more I think about Fever, the more surprised I am by how much I liked it.


 - Andrew Kotwicki