Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Two rightly-lauded films from the festival circuit arrive for virtual viewing. The Fever is playing for (through? via?) the Grand Illusion and starting March 29 for Northwest Film Forum.
This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection plays from April 2 for Northwest Film Forum.
Great opening shot in The Fever: A man stares at the camera as it retreats from a close-up to a wider shot, his face unreadable. It becomes clear that he is standing in front of a giant cargo container; as the shot goes on, the light repeatedly changes so that the rippled edges of the container start reflecting odd patterns and forms. The face may be impassive, but the image is troubled, volatile. Maybe even feverish.
The man is Justino (Regis Myrupu), a security worker at the Amazon port of Manaus. (At this point in history, it occurs to me that I might have to specify that “Amazon” refers to the giant river in South America, not the other thing.) He is indigenous, separated from the home that is somewhere in the rainforest that surrounds the city. Recently widowed, anticipating the departure of his daughter for medical school in Brasilia, and already disappointed at how citified his grown son has become, Justino appears distracted, if not despondent. He suffers from a periodic fever, which is unexplained—although, in an early scene, we see an indigenous woman enduring a similar fever, tended to at the hospital where Justino’s daughter works. It seems that to be too far separated from the forest is to be sickened.
This could be a simplistic diagnosis—the heartless city, once again ruining the authenticity of the real people—were it not for filmmaker Maya Da-Rin’s measured, densely textured take on the material. With its soundscape of insects and rainfall, and its keen eye for lived-in interiors and fluorescent-lit urban in-between spaces, The Fever is, minute-by-minute, a compelling experience; the slow rollout is part of the effect. Justino hears mysterious sounds in the jungly sections of the city, and we hear about something loose in those quasi-wild places; thankfully, this enigma is never entirely explained, but it provides the excuse for one of the film’s most haunting sequences.
The Fever also boasts one of the foundational attractions of cinema, an appreciation of the face. This is also true of This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, from Lesotho, by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese. I was on the FIPRESCI jury that gave its award to this film at the Hong Kong Film Festival last year (not actually “at” the festival, you pandemically understand), and it was a relatively easy choice. Built around the threat of a dam project, which will inundate a community, the film traces this social-issue narrative alongside the story of an 80-year-old woman who, having lost everything, decides to make arrangements for her own burial.
This is harder than you might think, and the dam project is part of the annoyance. Mosese finds humor and outrage here, and roots the movie in a glorious early shot that slinks through a club to find a traditional storyteller inviting us into the story—a little touch of the ancient leading to the modern. Our jury statement said: “The film uses a highly original combination of approaches: It’s about beautiful landscapes but also intensely-realized rooms; it’s awash with stylized colors but also documentary-like authenticity; and it invokes ancient storytelling traditions for its modern tale of grief channeled into social action.” I’ll co-sign that, and in fact I already did. And the human face? It belongs to the late actress Mary Twala Mhlongo, a veteran performer who died last year, and it carries its mystery and joy through the very final sequence.
March 26, 2021
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.