Damien and Pierre, two high school students, murder an unknown woman previously spotted on the street.
Raphael Neal (writer/screenplay)
Leslie Kaplan (novel)
Alice Zeniter (screenplay)
Fever is a French import – a psychological thriller of the highest order. Based on the novel by Leslie Kaplan, it’s a story taking a cue from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film Rope. And Rope was inspired by the real-life Leopold and Loeb murder case of the 1920’s.
Damien and Pierre (Martin Loizillon and Pierre Moure; respectively) are high school best friends. They’re a little bit misfit, with hints of a deeper relationship than just friends – oh, and they’re cold-blooded murderers – just for the heck of it. The film picks up in the adrenaline-laced moments following the unseen murder (to the audience) of a woman who was unknown to the boys. And as they scurry from the scene, Pierre bumps into a woman named Zoe (Julie-Marie Parmentier) who works at an optician’s store in the neighborhood; accidentally leaving behind one of his gloves, and giving Zoe pause – certainly when she hears of the murder a day later. The film follows all three of these characters, as they deal with their daily lives once they’ve become entwined in this crime. Eventually, their stories will intermingle, and choices for how they all continue to exist following this strange chapter in their lives – will have to be made.
Fever is definitely a psychological thriller. There is no horror per se, but a deep and intriguing character study of extremely flawed people. And what raises this film up from lesser pictures – every single character – in addition to our three leads – are multi-dimensional, with rich histories and dark secrets. Particularly interesting are the revelations about Damien’s grandfather Rene – played by Phillippe Laudenbach.
Performances are spectacular from top to bottom, but of course, we must point out the stellar work of Martin Loizillon and Pierre Moure as these two strange boys who one day decide to murder an innocent woman. From the get-go, Pierre is uncertain about their actions. The scenes as the boys arrive home following the murder – give perfect clue-ins as to how different these boys are. Even in something as simple as Pierre’s lackluster appetite and the opposite way which Damien scarfs down his food – are subtle and magnificent ways to set up the personalities – certainly in the wake of what they’ve just done.
It’s a marvel that Pierre was actually in his early 30s when the picture was shot. His physicality, apprehension and vulnerability as the teenager are miraculous. His seemingly random breakdown in the classroom is heart-wrenching – even more so when Damien takes him in his arms to comfort him – while the rest of the class sits silently; unaware of what to do.
Loizillon has more of a journey as Damien. Damien’s quite calculating, extremely odd (and yet social) and seemingly very pleased with the actions they have taken as a team. But when things about his family come to light – there’s regret, uncertainty and fear. Loizillon’s quiet moment at the bottom of a staircase; as he waits for Pierre – one small tear falls and you’re amazed. Loizillon won Best Actor at the 2014 Mumbai International Film Festival.
There’s an innate chemistry between these two actors. And although it’s never legitimized onscreen, the homoerotic tension between them is extreme and extremely intriguing.
As Zoe, the woman who continues to grow more suspicious of these two young boys – Julie-Marie Parmentier takes us on a journey which is just as important as those of Pierre and Damien. Her best scene (s) come during and following her first true interaction with Damien and Pierre. It’s in the stockroom of a large grocery store. Zoe’s been following the boys through the various aisles, her belief that they are guilty having grown into an obsession. The scene between Damien and Zoe (Pierre has split) is one which dreams are made of. It’s quiet. It’s subtle. It’s chilling. And its underlying threat of violence is harrowing. Once they are discovered by an employee; asking them to leave, Damien breaks away and Zoe returns home where she has an amazing onscreen breakdown. But all of her moments with the boys or thinking about the boys – lead to a genuine epiphany for the character. And it all plays into the cards which have been set up by the opening murder and the frequent discussions in the film about “chance”. Parmentier brings us along for the terrifying and eye-opening journey which Zoe must undertake. It’s a great performance.
The soundtrack is simply mesmerizing. It’s done by the international recording artist Camille – who appears as Alice Snow – a singer – in the film. Obviously, the theme and name of the film is “fever” and that song made most popular by Peggy Lee, is used all throughout the film in different incarnations. As Alice Snow, Camille performs the song in a concert scene, but many acapella versions liven up the rest of the scenes – most notably the chase through the supermarket mentioned above. Who knew that a little bit of bare and jazzy singing could help to produce so much anxiety. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before, and lends a unique and strange quality to the film.
Again, the film is about the characters. It’s most impressive to me that despite the violence, tension and actions taken by these people, we care about them deeply. We don’t necessarily want Pierre and Damien to be caught, but we do want to see Zoe relieved of her obsession. It’s a very different film with three twisting and turning stories – where we’re made to see so many sides… and be okay with that.
The performances, the unusual structure and the denouement – as well as the brilliant score of Fever – make this a film you can’t miss. And honestly, after letting it sit overnight, there’s nothing which I can pinpoint as a misstep, a flub or a problem. Therefore, Fever is worthy of a perfect score – and those are certainly not easy to come by. This film is a modern classic.
Fever is available on DVD/VOD, and this may just be one to put in your permanent collection. Additional viewings will no doubt offer new insights, attention to other details and fresh appreciation for the film’s brilliance.