I think it’s safe to say we never truly left the culture of colonialism. Ever since Europeans came to the New World to conquer and explore we’ve been conquering ever since. In Maya Da-Rin’s quiet little movie The Fever, the ever-expanding web of colonialism continues to spread over the landscape like an invisible wildfire that no rain will ever quench. Under the guise of industry, we see the center character, a taciturn man named Justino (Regis Myrupu). He stands, impassive like a British general, the faintest of smiles drawn on his otherwise blank slate of a face, as the cargo stop he works for continues to buzz around him, powered by its own mechanisms. We will get to know this man and even then, still remain a bit mystified by his unknowability, throughout the movie’s lean but rich 90-minute run.
Justino has two lives: the one at work as a supervisor for the aforementioned cargo stop, and the one at home. At work, he is casually referred to as The Indian, a nickname Justino seems to have accepted without a fight. At home, he is a kind, gentle husband and gives into tender moments of storytelling with his infant grandson, while occasionally making comments I as a Latino man heard my own father say one too many times. Those comments, which usually start with the ubiquitous “In my time…” only affirm the fact that Justino is a man probably caught in the past when “things were different.” Now, he simply supervises and has fallen to fainting spells that have not gone unnoticed by his employers. Needless to say, job security and unions are nonexistent in Manaus, and Justino gets a veiled threat that he may lose his job if his spells continue.
The reason for his spells is no spoiler. His daughter Vanessa (Rosa Peixoto) works in a hospital and is studying to become a doctor. Once she gets accepted to go to college, Justino reacts with incredible passive-aggressiveness (as any parent would do). As the events of the story move on we see Justino, caught between the impersonality of his job, which now also introduces a white Brazilian colleague who in every subsequent scene reveals himself as a racist and dreamy fugue at home where Justino allows himself to relax and live in relative comfort within the protection of the rainforest. A subplot of a creature set loose in the forest leads Justino to close encounters with it, and Da-Rin’s exploration of ambient sounds grants The Fever a tone of the otherworldly.
For a first movie, Maya Da-Rin’s movie is a small treasure that mostly sticks, and slightly doesn’t. Her narrative is organic, never rushed, never forced. Scenes flow in the way the jungle that surrounds Manaus does. An early sequence involving an old indigenous woman in the hospital where Vanessa works reveal Brazil’s mistreatment of those it would rather forget (a thing that actually seems to be a global attitude), and this short scene mirrors the events in Justino’s own life as a cog in the machinery that cares little for him as a person, more so because of his indigenous roots. Myrupu gives a meditative performance that seems effortless and lived-in. Whether this is due to his own experience — I can’t tell — I enjoyed seeing the actor on the scene simply telling me Da-Rin’s story as if he were confessing.
The Fever is still available via virtual cinema at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.