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Review: Brazilian drama ‘The Fever’ reveals an Indigenous man’s yearning for a return to nature

Rosa Peixoto and Regis Myrupu in the movie "The Fever."
(KimStim)

As if in a trance, dockworker Justino (Regis Myrupu) constantly surrenders to the cacophonic lullaby of nature while on the clock. The striking image of his serene face among cargo containers opens Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin’s hypnotically understated drama “The Fever.” To his detriment, there’s no place for such spiritually stimulating meditation in the industrialized reality of the riverside city of Manaus, Brazil, where he settled to make a living decades prior.

A middle-aged man from the Desana Indigenous people, who speaks the Tukano language, he feels like a foreigner within his own country. Society expects assimilation but full acceptance is unattainable for him even if desired. His children, raised in the urban environment, are distant from the native tongue, cosmology and self-sustainable lifestyle he enshrines. In public, Justino tolerates the insidiousness of casual racism but inside pities the white man’s narrow worldview that’s only in touch with the material.

Stoic with dashes of vulnerability, Myrupu’s debut performance grows in intricacy as the character’s health declines and lucid dreams haunt him. Quite literally, he’s sick of the so-called modern world of the colonizers. Interpreted as a fever by Western medicine, the malaise in question is the physical manifestation of a hankering to return home. Not the house where he cooks and sleeps after his tedious job but the greener land where the honey is fresh, people hunt to eat and myths are truth. There’s an unseen yet present force calling for Justino.

Da-Rin, working from a screenplay cowritten with Pedro Cesarino and Miguel Seabra Lopes, elevates slice-of-life passages with pointed commentary about the uprooting and marginalization of Indigenous populations under the façade of collective progress. Built on rich soundscapes and calibrated camera interactions with the spaces, determining with precision what’s seen or hidden in shadow or light, an otherworldly atmosphere permeates the film. Organic exuberance and manmade practicality also clash visually throughout.

Still the film doesn’t entirely romanticize the return to the ancestral land and evinces how the patriarchal standards still upheld there wouldn’t allow Justino’s daughter Vanessa (Rosa Peixoto), a nurse headed for med school, to pursue an education. Da-Rin achieves a balanced examination that we seldom see in Latin American cinema. Subtly sensorial more than conventionally narrative, “The Fever” inhabits an ethereal plane that centers Indigenous beliefs and cultural practices not as primitive but valid modes of engagement.

‘The Fever’

Not Rated

In Tukano and Portuguese with English subtitles

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: Starts March 19, Laemmle Virtual Cinemas


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