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The Fever Film Review: Indigenous Identity Under Fire

The Fever is an auditory art experience that shows the ambiguous struggle between indigenous cultural practices and the industrialised city of Manaus in the Amazonas. 

Brazil, the world’s biggest melting pot, has a diversity of cultures not only imported but also within the old and new population. The subject of indigenous identity and cultural practices has fascinated many Brazilians and foreigners alike for many years. Due to the large growth of industries in the 1960s and the rise of an economic free zone, nowhere can the clash between native and colony-descendant be more obviously visible than in the industrial hub of Manaus, right on the edge of the Amazonas in Brazil. Innovative film maker and visual artist Maya Da-Rin presents us with an intriguing take on the differences in culture and value between Brazilian and indigenous migrants in The Fever (A Febre).

Director Da-Rin’s newest feature film is, quite literally, a slow-burning visualisation of an allegory that is rooted in a narrative of visual and auditory experiences instead of focusing on dialogue. Justino (Regis Myrupu), a member of the indigenous Desana people, travels between his house on the Amazonas to the industrial port of Manaus to work as a security guard. He lives with his daughter Vanessa (Rosa Peixoto, Cidade Invisível), an ambitious nurse at a local health clinic who recently got accepted to study medicine in Brasilia. With a mother who passed away not too long ago, she in unsure if she should move even further inland or stay close to her dad and roots. While the insecurity of Vanessa’s impending leaving festers, Justino, working day in day out, develops an inexplicable and strong fever.

When a mysterious creature is on the prowl on the outskirts of Manaus, a feverish Justino sees traces of the animal in his dreams and waking moments. Whether from a new colleague at the harbour or through the arrival of his brother from his native village, Justino’s cultural roots begin to catch up with him and he longs for the life in the forest and the village he left twenty years ago. Torn between the oppressions of the city and the distance of his indigenous culture it appears Justino can no longer live a rootless existence. The Fever strikes a telling comparison between the rich and colourful nature of Justino’s home with the oppressing and mechanical bleakness of an industrial port.

loud and clear reviews the fever a febre 2021 film
A Still from The Fever (New Wave Films)

The film references indigenous culture throughout and, through a striking positioning of these references in the industrial city, the disbalance between the two cultures becomes painfully apparent. In the cosmology of the Upper Rio Negro people, the relations among humans, animals and the forest play a vital role. In their mythologies and shamanic discourses, animals and other beings inhabit worlds that are identical to our human world, and they act like humans as well. Though for the majority of the Brazilians in Manaus the mysterious creature in The Fever is seen as a menace, Justino’s special bond with the animal reflects an allegorical sense to the animal’s function in the narrative. Through its existence and significant relation to indigenous culture, the animal could stand as a symbol of how indigenous migrants and their culture are being misunderstood by the general population and subsequently hunted into extinction.

Justino himself expresses that he feels like “a hunter with no prey,” and, in various scenes, the hauntedness of the ambiance gives you the impression of something, or someone, being hunted. While at work, he walks around like a hunter prowling in the forest, and Da-Rin plays with the images of the vulnerability and smallness of Justino while in the port and his more comfortable behaviour while at home. When Justino’s new colleague refers to indigenous people as being “all tame now,” it becomes clear that the hunters, the indigenous people, have now become the hunted. In Justino’s new colleague we can see the growing racism against indigenous people that is a leftover of their migration to the industrial cities. Upon arrival in the city, they are often confronted with prejudice from the Brazilian society and made to renounce their cultural practices and traditions. With Brazil’s 1988 Constitution recognising their rights of identity and land, many indigenous people have subsequently returned to self-identifying as indigenous.

This process is also central in The Fever, and Justino’s struggle with his outward appearing lack of indigenous identity features as an undertone and point of critique in the small dialogue present with his new colleague and Justino’s brother. When asked what kind of food Justino eats, he smartly replies with “the kind you can find in the supermarket”, referring to the fact he no longer goes out to hunt for food the traditional way. His brother retorts that he has “become white” and that his fever is gaining force because he “doesn’t understand, cause he only speaks the white language now”. Which is slightly ironic as virtually all conversations, excepting with non-indigenous Brazilians, are conducted in Tukano, which has become adopted as the lingua franca among different ethnic groups to facilitate communication.

The script for The Fever has been partly composed by the actors themselves, who are a diverse mix of natives to the various indigenous groups in Brazil. For example, Regis Myrupu (Justino) is Desana, while Rosa Peixoto (Vanessa) and Jonathan Sodré (Everton) are Tariano. Edmildo Vaz Pimentel (André), Anunciata Teles (Marta) and Rodson Vasconcelos (Josué) on the other hand are Tukano. Though there are more than twenty ethnic groups living in the Upper Rio Negro region, their cultural practices and myths are very similar, and The Fever can be representative of all these groups. The storytelling nature of the film is shown through the abundance of still shots and the sublime soundscapes present. With limited dialogue, Maya Da-Rin invites you to reflect on what is shown and what you hear, which is both menacing as ominous in its industrialisation. Context is all that matters in The Fever, as we can see from the type of materials that are being shipped from the port, “Eco container – bamboo flooring,” to Justino’s daily commute, one hour, to get from the heart of industrialism to the safe confines of the edge of the Amazonas.

The significance of music and sound in indigenous culture is transported in The Fever as well through its sound design. The binaural sound design relies heavily on ambient noises and sounds to explore the tenuousness of Justino’s life and the relation between port and forest. Keen listeners can tell that sound designer Felippe Mussel found similarities in the high tones of shrilling insects in the forest and the creaking and shrieking of heavy machinery. By repeating and blending this till the point where you are not able to tell anymore which sound is which, The Fever paints a haunting auditory image of the forest being consumed by the industrial port.

Through its visual and auditory composition, The Fever highlights and juxtaposes the differences between an industrial city and indigenous cultural practices. The narrative and imagery make it clear that a man struggling with his non-identity ultimately will be consumed by nature itself to the extent that his body will burn up. The Fever balances nature with industry and the peril it puts the indigenous cultural practices and identity in. A stunning piece of cinematic work, Maya Da-Rin’s new feature feels like a combination of visual art and an allegorical documentary. If there is one hopeful thing to be taken from The Fever, it is that we will always grow back to our roots.

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