Category Archives: International Cinema

SFIFF: An investigator gets drawn into a mysterious death and unearths demons from his own past in “The Dry”

It’s been a minute since Eric Bana made a movie (that was a success on this side of the globe). You can imagine my surprise when he teamed up with Robert Connolly, a fellow Australian (whose work has never been officially released here except in a few film festivals), for a movie version of Jane Harper’s novel The Dry, set to premiere in the US on May 21st. via IFC theaters.

Every small town has its secrets and the town of Kiewarra is teeming with them. An act of shocking violence that leaves an entire family except for its infant daughter dead opens the story. The (now deceased) father is a former childhood friend of Aaron Falk, a detective who grew up in Kiewarra and has returned upon being summoned by the friend’s parents to clear their son’s name. However, Falk has another connection to Kiewarra that is much darker and lingers on throughout the entire film like a festering wound waiting to release its noxious contents.

For the most part, The Dry is a solid procedural with Bana at the helm, accompanied by Keir O’Donnell as the police officer also assigned to the case. There are moments of genuine suspense and a plausible red herring that somehow doesn’t quite pan out in the way it should, but the flashbacks to when Falk was a teenager are on-spot, filled with dread. A tad bit of ambiance and mood could have helped give this incursion into Gothic a sense of land gone tainted and lives gone to waste. The movie’s flashback sequences, while informative, pop up a bit much and rob the movie of its more disturbing nature of the perpetuation of evil that can pop up in any form. It makes me think that a bit less would have helped more.

Even so, Connolly keeps the movie going, never pausing too much except when the story itself needs to. The Dry might not have a chase sequence typical of American thrillers and is probably a closer portrayal of how an actual procedural works, which keeps it grounded. However, it is compelling, polished, anchored by solid performances all around. Also, and this is not a spoiler, it does have a killer double denouement that has to be seen — they’re both that good. [C+]

SIFF: Bebia, à mon seul desir

I hate to say it, but I left the most confounding movie from the entire film festival for last even though this was one of the first. I was able to see this one in pieces, pausing, resuming if at all to grasp its significance and digest its symbolic imagery, and while at times the film alienated me in more ways I’d like to admit, I felt in whole that I had seen an extremely personal, but somewhat self-indulgent film about death and linking your ancestors to their final resting place.

The movie itself, with its strange title Bebia, a mon seul desir, is mystifying. A teenage runway model named Ariadne (Anushka Andronikashvili) learns that her grandmother has passed on and must return home for the wake and burial. Once she arrives, the disconnect is clear. A family friend, Temo (Alexander Glurjidze), picks her up and escorts her home, but instead of there being any emotional greetings yielding to sympathetic exchanges, the two remain stiff and separated from each other.

When Ariadna arrives home her alienation is made deeper by the appearance of her forbidding and perpetually angry mother (Anastasia Chanturaia) who has little time for affection but spends her onscreen time lashing out. We wonder what may have transpired between her and Ariadna to engender such barely repressed hostility. The movie doesn’t go there, but instead, lets it fester, untreated, which in a way is satisfying. Not all loose ends have to be tied, so to leave this part of family dynamics up in the air is a good move.

When the time of mourning arrives Ariadna becomes confronted with tradition and it makes her laugh before she cries. Female mourners sit next to Arifdna and begin to wail painfully, their voices going louder and louder until the priest has to tell them to stop. It’s only then when Ariadne’s composure, which began complete with an eye-roll and a nervous chuckle collapses. It is her only moment of emotion.

Ariadna learns that tradition has it that she has to take a ball of yarn and walk from the house to the place where her grandmother died in order to link her soul with her grave. Ariadna then starts the trek over an open expanse of land with Temo beside her. Here is where the movie, which has worked up until now, starts to lose focus. A ritual of any kind has to open your senses to something greater than yourself even when the said ritual may seem silly or unnecessary. Ariadna’s walk through miles of land transpires without much emotional gravity. It’s so performed as though Ariadna herself was suffering from a type of disassociation by proxy. While she may be, in fact, completing a cycle of life, there is no emotional arc that plays here, no act of heroism, or even selflessness.

Director Juja Dobrachkous gives enough information that may explain the disconnect between Ariadna and her mother’s home. It may even — and I’m overreaching here — form a parallel between other stories in which a person who leaves a country finds his or herself at odds with the place of birth and its customs, now seem as borderline barbaric or plain ridiculous. Her use of inserts of the past (she claims they are not flashbacks) also confuses rather than enlighten. They don’t seem to add anything new to this elliptical tale, which is a shame because the opportunity was clearly there from the onset to make a great mediation about roots, and the loved dead.

Aside from that, Bebia, a mon seul desir is striking in black and white in a manner reminiscent of Pavel Pawlikowski’s Ida, and many shots that focus not on characters but on no specific subject, in general, come off also a bit like that film. It’s a dreamy experience that seeks neither to enlighten nor to reveal, but to let you in on a strange, symbolic labyrinth.

Bebia, a mon seul desir is also playing at the New Directors / New Films festival. It has no US release as of yet.

SIFF: A blundering biopic of Sonja Wigert in The Spy

Female spies were all over the European map in World War II, but one that you might not know of was Swedish actress Sonja Wigert. That might be because during her natural life that aspect of her career was never revealed until a quarter-century after her death in 1980. It seems appropriate, then, that the powers that be would make a movie about her life in a ways to honor her work against the Nazi regime.

It would make sense, then, that one of Norway’s biggest female stars, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, would get pulled into Jens Jonsson’s movie, simply titled The Spy, which makes its bow at the SIFF. You might have seen Bolsø Berdal in the first two seasons of Westworld, but she was rather under-utilized in that series. In Spy, she plays Sonja Wigert, Sweden’s biggest box-office draw who gets recruited by her government to spy on the Germans, who in turn unknowingly use her to spy on the Swedes, with poor results for obvious reasons.

Jonsson’s movie could and should have been better, but instead, it falls back into familiar spy movie tropes that are so on-the-nose, so blatant, you can practically sleepwalk through the entire affair and not lose a beat. That’s not a good thing, because in a spy thriller, the need for suspense, even when its main character clearly survives the ordeal, even when you know the story well, is paramount. It just doesn’t seem as though Wigert is in any real danger, and one red herring does not exactly save the movie from its color-by-numbers development.

Adding to this, the movie never knows what period it takes place. If you are a stickler of detail as yours truly can be, you will notice that while the movie takes place in the late thirties and early forties, much of the hair and outfits seem a bit all over the place, as if the intent was to make it look of the period, but not be of the period. If we sum this to Bolsø Berdal’s committed but somewhat undefined performance, we get an actress playing an actress that seems to be not sure where her alliances are. Sonja Wigert deserves a better movie.

The Spy does not have a release date as of yet.

Grade: C

SIFF: The Gentle Irony of a holy place that is anything but in The Unknown Saint

So, you’re a thief and you’ve made a killing in gold. However, as life would have it, the cops are hot on your tail. You’re in the middle of nowhere and realize you’re going to face the music. Quick reasoning, you decide to hide your stash in a way that the cops will never find it — only you, when you get out.

The problem is, that while you do your time, when you get out, and go back to claim your stash… it’s not only not there/available, but there’s a monument that’s been erected over it.

The premise of Alaa Edit Aljem could not have been more ironic if you won the lottery the very same day you also got terrible news from the doctor. A film that delves into the gently absurd, The Unknown Saint posits an unlikely situation and the ramifications stemming from it like a blessing in disguise.

Trailer

Several plot threads convene into a grand comic whole in which the Thief (Younes Bouab) finds himself returning to the scene of the crime only to find out that the place is now a place of worship and that he’s regarded as a scientist. Yes, you read that right, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Along the way there is the Brain (Salah Bensalah), the Thief’s accomplice, continually blunders his attempts at retrieving the loot. A sexy, handsome doctor (Anas El Baz) has come to be the village’s doctor only to find out that the village has no need for him (except for entertainment), and a farmer and his son pray for rain, and get a lot more than they bargained for.

I find it refreshing that movies like these exist. I really loved how the desert, and the shrine at its center, become an all-knowing character hiding precious treasure in lieu of a miracle, but also, and in spite of the irony, a source of riches beyond the material. This is a gentle comedy in the Ealing style that initially makes you root for the Thief but, as the story progresses, you feel more empathy for the poor deluded folk who live in ignorant bliss. I especially love the universality of its story: this could have very well been a comic Western with slight magical realist overtones. As it is, The Unknown Saint is a fable with a slight moral lesson dressed in the trappings of a crime caper and a clever, empathetic Ealing comedy. [A–]

SIFF: A Political Thriller moprhs into a reflecting image about the power of peaceful protest, and a cry for “Freedom and Dignity” in THE TRANSLATOR

It is incredible when you walk into a movie that illustrates a situation happening thousands of miles away and realize that its events are much closer to the ones happening right at home, or in my case, in my own Dominican Republic, a country where I lived in for almost 20 years and who had its own shares of political violence against its resistors and who is today, trying to rebuild itself from the ashes of a dark yesterday.

Rana Kazkaf and Anaz Khalaf’s The Translator posits a stark reality for its exiled protagonist. Sami (Ziad Bakri), a Syrian exile living a life of privilege in Sydney, Australia, becomes drawn back to his country of origin when his brother Zaid goes missing following an arrest. The arrest seems to be linked to the 2000 Olympics when Sami (allegedly deliberately) mistranslated a blink or miss passage that sealed his fate. Having to see a video that shows Zaid being hauled off to an unknown fate (and potentially be disappeared as his own father was years ago when Sami was a boy) shakes Sami out of his zone and leads him into action.

Upon arriving, however, Sami has little time to breathe and becomes witness of just how dangerous the situation is. Reconnecting with his sister Karma (Yunna Marwan) is bitter; she blames his absence and that as a translator he is a hider — one who doesn’t speak his own words, when words equal the truth. Sami attempts to seek help anywhere he can, but it seems, no one can be trusted, and the more he stays, the less likely he might be able to leave.

If I had not seen the Q & A following The Translator I would have assumed this was based on actual facts. That is how sharp, how urgent, how “ripped from the headlines” Kazkaz’s and Khalaf’s movie looks. You could almost confuse it for actual news, or a risky, guerrilla-style documentary, with every shot filled with tension, its characters in a vicious struggle against oppression while those who do so loom over the narrative and give the movie a sense of inescapable doom.

The movie’s true meaning reveals itself later in the movie and it will resonate at a global level. A book containing documents of peaceful protests that get squashed by the military and the police becomes a weapon of truth — a truth we all know too well. The famous Kent State picture of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the body of Jeffrey Miller makes a striking cameo appearance. We then realize this is not just a “Syrian” problem but ours as well, and it reflects itself over and over into recent history when seeing how Charlottesville ended and how our own peaceful protests have been targeted for being dangerous.

The Translator has no release date in the US. If it shows up at a film festival near you please go see it. [A]

SIFF: The Heist of the Century, SanRemo, and This Town

Every so often we get movies that try to capture the magic of Sidney Lumet’s A Dog Day Afternoon but wind up looking either like artificial constructs like Now You See Me, or rehashed versions of other, better crime capers dating back to the 1950s. Ariel Winograd’s The Heist of the Century (El robo del siglo) treads a middle ground between crowd-pleasing and rehash but is mainly a solid two hours of entertainment. Its story, like Dog Day, is based on true events. On a hot summer day in 2006, a group of thieves led by Fernando Araujo (Diego Peretti)_and Luis Mario Vetetti Sellanes (Guillermo Francella, last seen in 2015’s The Clan) execute one of the greatest heists ever in Argentinean history. How they orchestrate such a massive break-in I’ll leave you to see for yourself, because it is as insane as it is audacious and often times flat-out funny. Winograd keeps the action constantly pumping with little time for contemplation and draws his pack of conspirators in enough of a sympathetical light to keep some focus on the men instead of rooting for the cops to eventually bring their shenanigans to a halt. If the story itself falters, it’s that once you realize that everyone involved will eventually meet their moment of justice, you start to forget the movie altogether. I had a hard time truly relating to the events of the film shortly afterward, which is probably due to having seen so many movies of the same kind over the years. It says something when the only movie I can recall almost scene-by-scene is Lumets, but then, Dog Day is a classic all its own. [C]

poster for SanRemo

When we meet Bruno (Sandi Pavlin), he’s trying to borrow a bike from a woman minding her own business because he is trying to get home to his dog. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that Bruno has escaped the senior-citizen home, and judging from the faces of the attendants coming in to take Bruno back, he’s done this thing before.

Later on we see him again, observing an. elegant older woman as she enjoys some exercise that ends when the sprinkler system goes off and she, instead of leaving, lets the water rain down on her as if in a blessing. Duša (Silvia Gušin) and Bruno start a tentative friendship although at times she seems a bit prickly, as if she wouldn’t remember him but does. A shared bond over a song develops, but they continue to meet over and over again for the first time.

Shades of Away from Her and The Mole Agent are all over Sanremo, and I mean that in a good way instead of looking for a cheap comparison. Sanremo establishes rather firmly that Bruno suffering from dementia and his repeated attempts at escape only make matters worse for him. He has a loving but strained relationship with his visiting daughter, who is conflicted with the sale of a house that contains so many memories. And of course, there is the presence of Duša, who gives Bruno a fleeting sense of hope.

Miroslav Mandic’s movie is one of great compassion for its characters. While we get that they have to be treated with a somewhat firm hand by the staff members of the home, it never deviates into potential cruelty. The look of the movie is desaturated, with dense fog opening the story. The fog may be an on-the-nose symbol of the state of Bruno’s mind, but an increased clarity in scenes and a gorgeous but somewhat surrealistic finale indicate that Bruno may have reached a sense of closure, even when his character winds up in a rather odd place. [B]

Arriving from New Zealand is a mockumentary in the style of Taika Waititi and Christopher Guest movies called This Town. Written and directed by David White, This Town tells the story of Sean (White again), a young man wanting to find true love and settle down. It’s just that he’s got a little bit of baggage which might be a deal-breaker. Several years ago he was not found guilty of slaughtering his entire family; however, just because a judge ruled in favor, it still doesn’t clear you of the crime. Or so Pam (Robyn Malcolm) thinks. She’s the former sheriff hot on his trail who’s turned her entire house into a network of clues and news clippings and recordings on 8-track in a last-ditch effort to nab Sean for good.

While Pam slowly manages to tie up the knots on her boundary-pushing investigation, Sean finds love with Casey (Alice Connolly). However, the town doesn’t do much to stand in between Sean and his rebuilding his life. This somewhat amounts to a bit of a problem in a movie that is often funny but not laugh-out-loud hilarious. Midway through, the movie loses a bit of steam and it seems as though perhaps it might be stretching itself a bit thin in order to meet a runtime. Even the comedic presence of Rima te Wiata — always welcome — feels a bit misguided and forced. By the end, once the end credits roll, I was having a bit of a time remembering White’s movie mainly because after a strong beginning it just didn’t know where to take itself and kept relying on too much of Malcolm to keep the conflict up. That in itself makes me rate This Town a C.

SIFF 2021: The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet and The Pink Cloud

Brazil and Argentina present two movies that attempt to present a world gone upside down through a cataclysm, which references the 2020 pandemic. [Note, both movies were filmed before the COVID-19 outbreak struck.]

Daniel Katz wearing an oxygen tank in The Dog Who Wouldn’t be Quiet

Absurdism through a black and white lens and a young man somehow manages to come out of a series of disarming situations, one direr than the other, in Ana Katz’s movie The Dog Who Wouldn’t be Quiet (El Perro que no calla). Daniel Katz plays Sebastian, a soft-spoken man who sees the world react around him and somehow manages to conform to its curveballs. When the story begins we see him tending to some plants while his dog Rita observes in silence. Neighbors suddenly fill his doorway complaining that the dog won’t stop barking and perhaps the animal is in some mental anguish. The complaints get mirrored at work where Sebastian had brought his dog: the animal is disruptive. Such a disruption may lead to other employees acting out in non-productive ways. Sebastian leaves his job and finds work as a caregiver for a man suffering from dementia, which leads to other events in which Sebastian finds himself suffering a poignant loss, falling in love, and surviving a cataclysm that mirrors the 2020 pandemic. Ana Katz paints an experimental, gentle drama with hints of deadpan comedy that on two occasions veers into animated drawings that, while distancing in style, actually add to the gravitas. Her movie is a quiet exploration of resilience, pathos, and of a kind man caught under a world filled with chaos.

A lethal shade of rose envelops the world in The Pink Cloud

The Pink Cloud offers a hellish premise straight out of Luis Bunuel. If you ever saw The Exterminating Angel from 1962, you will see remarkable parallels between that movie and Iuli Gerbase’s debut film. With both movies, we find people unable to leave a comfortable space that becomes increasingly claustrophobic and which eventually pushes its occupants into the limits of stress. Both movies offer no explanation for why its cataclysmic event happens and offer no satisfaction. The culprit in The Pink Cloud is — you guessed it — a mysterious atmospheric change in which clouds turn a lovely shade of rose… and turn the air into a death trap that can kill you in 10 seconds.

A woman and a man (Renata de Lélis and Eduardo Mendonça) wake up from a night of partying to find themselves now having to lock themselves inside her home, unable to leave. Lucky for the woman, her place is conveniently large enough to fit her and the man she barely knows so at first, when the clouds appear, it seems a passing fad. “It’ll end soon,” its characters say through Facetime, and we as an audience hope so, (and again, I’m reminded about March of 2020 when the pandemic was new). It’s when the clouds refuse to leave when days become weeks, weeks become months, and months turn into years, the movie stretches itself into an act of indefinite torture. Stakes get higher, situations that would never have happened with the movie’s characters — central and peripheral — all of a sudden become very real, and the movie plunges into a dark terrain from where there may be no escape.

The Pink Cloud (A nuvem rosa)asks a lot from its characters and its audience alike. Forced cohabitation, the unreality that you might find yourself alone and left to fend for yourself (as one character is), is horrifying. Seeing its characters set adrift when we are still in the middle of a pandemic is a sobering experience. I recall when I didn’t know if a sense of normalcy might return. However, a year later, life is slowly returning to its roots (although we are still a long way). I can move about even when I still don’t engage in my pre-pandemic activities. The small cast of characters of The Pink Cloud, on the other hand, are glued to themselves and their immediate surroundings. Unnatural realities are being created, and life, miraculously, still goes on. You don’t have an alternative. You’re stuck to whoever you were stuck with at the moment of crisis; you can either manage or die.

Both The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet and The Pink Cloud are awaiting distribution so a release date is TBA,

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet: B

The Pink Cloud: B+

A Harrowing Depiction of Life Among the Ruins: Gianfranco Rosi’s Notturno

Every so often a movie comes around that really messes you up. The last time I saw a documentary that kept me up at night was 2013’s The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer and Anonymous’s portrayal of the horrors committed on a populace in the name of ethnic cleansing left me so shaken I didn’t know what to do. Yes, a movie can do this to you.

Alain Resnais’ Nuit et Broulliard (Night and Fog) managed to open a glimpse into the abyss in his portrayal of Nazi atrocities in barely 30 minutes of running time. Now, Gianfranco Rosi, whose work should be commended for his bravery, presents Notturno. His documentary posits itself as an observer, much in the way of the works of Frederick Wiseman. We never get interviews; we only observe its subjects, some broken, some jailed, some haunted, some hopeful, as they move about through life while the distant sounds of armed conflict pepper the soundtrack.

Threads emerge. Women, entering the prison where their sons were tortured and killed by ISIS. One mother’s pain is so palpable: she mourns the loss of her son, and even attempts, it seems, to absorb her son’s final moments before an untimely death while wondering, “Where was God in all this?” Another boy, Fawaz, narrates to his teacher the atrocities committed by ISIS, his drawing an abstract composition of death and horror. As the camera continues to roll his speech will turn into a stutter as he attempts to vomit forth all that he has witnessed. Another thread depicts a fisherman hunting for food at night while the oil fields burn, lighting up the night as though it were sunset. Yet another shows the Peshmerga female soldiers as they go throughout their days and nights, guarding the fort, conducting night surveillance, or simply watching violent videos on their iPads while others drink tea. Another sequence, still, depicts a mother having to listen to frantic messages left by her daughter who has been captured by ISIS. Most notably, a teen imparts lessons to hunters, but one scene left me wondering if there was something vaguely sexual about the exchange.

One interesting sequence lasts only about five minutes. In it, we see what seems to be ISIS prisoners, all dressed in orange, moving about their cell yard. It is disconcerting, to say the least, knowing the horrors they have inflicted, and how now they’ve been reduced to mere orange figures moving in a manner not un-similar to the laborers of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), only to be clumped together into one giant cell in which barely any light filters through.

This is an extremely harrowing movie that I had to view in portions because at times it was a bit much to take in one sitting. Mind you, Notturno is a little over 90 minutes long in length not counting credits. It’s just that to see a nation attempting to live in a weird sense of bruised normalcy under an unforgiving sky while nursing so many scars, so much death and destruction left by a horrendous militant group, was almost a litmus test in endurance. My only complaint with the movie is that while Fawaz’s (and other children’s) stories were necessary to be told, in the long sequence where he is clearly stuttering and spitting his words out as his story becomes more and more frenzied, why did no one break the fourth wall and come to comfort him? It seemed a bit too exploitative.

Notturno won’t be for everyone’s taste and should be approached with a strong stomach and a sense of detachment in order to process it all. It is available on most streaming platforms.

Grade: A–

Far From The Agony and The Ecstasy: Andrei Konchalovsky’s Sin presents the Politics Behind the Art

I was hoping to compose this as one of three movies by Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky. Considering his most recent movie, Dear Comrades! is still out on virtual platforms and Paradise is also on Prime, I felt that it would be interesting to write an article based on all three and find common themes, etc. As it stands, I’ll make this one merely a capsule.

Forget the Hollywood-helmed, larger-than-life bio-pic starring Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison from 1965. Konchalovsky’s Sin (Il Peccato), which has just exited Film Forum, presents a messy period in Michaelangelo’s life during the time he had just finished the Sistine Chapel and was set to sculpt the tomb of Pope Julius II.

Pity anyone living in the time of the Renaissance. Cities were covered in filth and feces, life seemed only barely removed from a hellish nightmare of oblivion and meaninglessness. Meanwhile, competing families De Rovere and the Medicis fight (via heated arguments, and backhanded manipulation) to secure the hand of Michaelangelo as the artist to produce works of artistic immortality. Meanwhile, Michaelangelo (Alberto Testone, far removed from Heston), whom we never see inasmuch as draw a line, mopes, screams, tortures himself and all who surround him and walks around under a dirty cloak of genius. An extended sequence in which the while marble that will make the famous papal tomb marks the movie’s only moment of extreme suspense. The simple act of moving it from its place in the Carrara mountains gives the movie an edge-of-your-seat sense of dread. After that, Sin plods along, at times fascinating, and at times truly mired in misery, to a climactic scene that involves Dante Alighieri himself in what might be a vision of Heaven or Hell itself.

Konchalovsky’s movie often ventures into fevered dreams that meld seamlessly with reality. An early sequence sees Michaelangelo wander into town and see his David, derelict and lonely, in front of a gallows where an unfortunate man hangs. Never hagiographical, this Michaelangelo is narcissistic and selfish, abusive, and greedy. You can almost smell the filth that clings to him and wonder, “Could this hobo actually have produced what the world knows as the greatest works of art?” The answer, surprisingly, is yes.

Grade: B+

In Maya Da-Rin’s The Fever (O Febre), a Man is Caught Between two Incompatible Realities

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.

Grade: B