After festival screenings in 2014, Fever was released by Artsploitation Films in May 2016. For additional details on the DVD and the film itself please see their site.
Fever is a French crime story (not to be confused with the German drama directed Elfi Mikesch) about two young boys studying literature and philosophy who, in the opening seconds of the film have murdered a woman in her apartment. This happens off screen, with just a few sounds of the death being heard. This impersonal act starts the whole thing moving and gets to the core themes in a story where they have decided that without motive, without even knowing the victim it’s not really a crime. Getting away with something like this has come up in thrillers of the past, like Hitchcock’s classic Strangers on a Train; but this premise and the way it begins might have more in common with Rope with its intellectual duo of killers. But to sell this as a suspense thriller or even a straightforward murder mystery would be incorrect, and this jumping off point is used to take the plot into a more unusual direction than you’d probably be expecting. While the title of the film and the song it refers to suggest this is going to be a slow burning drama, pacing aside it’s a decidedly colder affair.
There’s a great sense of unease running through the story, aided by the desaturated visual colour scheme and the choice of eerie vocals in the soundtrack which are accompanied by a few moments of sparse percussion along the way. This is in contrast to the locations on offer with their stylish Parisian streets and the human warmth of restaurants and homes which the two leads spend much of their time in. They did this because they could, not because of any social problems or difficult upbringings. They do their homework and eat out, and this sense of normality becomes ever more awkward as the weight of the deed becomes heavier on their minds.
Initially Damien (Martin Loizillon) is the more confident of the two, he gives out all the bravado and has more disrespect for his family than his friend Pierre (Pierre Moure) who is more reserved and shows the first signs of a guilty conscious. The dual nature of their personalities is given a lot of time, and to keep things intersting their roles do not stay fixed as things progress. Things are not helped by a lost glove outside the crime scene and police reports of DNA under the victim’s fingernails, neither do the growing suspicions of Zoé (Julie-Marie Parmentier) who works at the opticians across the street from the death. In a standard thriller plot all this would lead into mounting tensions, police action and a slow descent into paranoia as things unravel and the walls start to close in. But it’s here that it takes an unusual approach and the character drama becomes something unexpected.
While some setup is given to Pierre’s potential romantic interest threatening to strain his friendship with Damien, this is soon cut off by the second act which sees them taking time off for study during the summer. The growing shadow of their individual family heritage during the Second World War becomes a plot element when Pierre begins to suspect one of his relatives of being a Vichy government administrator (a Nazi collaborator) and this begins a new tangent that seemingly comes out of nowhere. The suspense atmosphere from the opening is drained away and replaced by something that is thought provoking, but not entirely effective. Meanwhile Zoé finds herself unable to act on the possible evidence she has found, instead obsessing over the murder and finding her own domestic situation coming under pressure.
This kind of meditation on the nature of evil, and whether those who act (or do not act) in immoral situations is a interesting element to add. The possibility of having to live with this knowledge or the idea that getting away with a crime is worse than confessing offers plenty of food for thought. But this is in conflict with the other plot strands which have been woven in since the beginning, and the lack of standard procedural elements mean it lacks drama – particularly when so much time is spent in the optometry store or with Zoé’s boyfriend melodrama. While there are certainly a few tense moments in the climax, the pacing and focus of the narrative is cold and distance much like it’s main characters. Personal crises are reached and big questions are asked, but it never builds a real sense of urgency. Rather than ever threatening to boil over it just sort of simmers for most of the duration. It’s a story which will certainly make you think after the fact but don’t expect any kind of immediate gratification when the credits roll.