TOM GLEDHILL reviews Fièvres, ‘a powerful exploration of cultural identity, family and rebellion’, at Film Africa 2014.
Running Time: 90mins
Director: Hicham Ayouch
Cast: Didier Michon, Slimane Dazi, Lounes Tazairt, Farida Amrouche, Tony Harrison, Pascal Elso
‘Fièvres’ tells the story of Benjamin (Didier Michon), a young and troubled boy who demands to live with his father Karim (Slimane Dazi), with whom he has had no contact since birth, after the imprisonment of his mother. Instantly, Benjamin’s presence in the home that Karim shares with his parents is one of immense threat and conflict. The drama unfolds as his increasingly rebellious behaviour clashes with that of his new North African family, and the tension in the flat moves closer and closer to breaking point as Karim desperately attempts to connect with his estranged son.
Franco-Moroccan director Hicham Ayouch’s third feature-length film is one with a clear thematic agenda: extracting a rumination on cultural assimilation, identity and masculinity from a personal study of a North African family living in a tower-block on the outskirts of Paris. When ‘Fièvres’ works best, it does so because it affords this study, and more specifically, the relationship between Benjamin and Karim, time to breathe and burgeon naturally. It’s patient in its early stages, allowing both characters to be skilfully portrayed on screen. Michon displays a remarkable range far beyond his years, delivering a performance that mixes both a raw and unrestrained anger with glimpses of a concealed vulnerability. Whether threatening to burn his grandfather’s Quran or careering around his room in disturbed agitation, Benjamin is a character of unknown, but tangibly painful origins.
Despite the intense focus the film gives Benjamin, it is Dazi’s Karim who really carries the film through its most poignant moments. Though most famous for his small roles in A Prophet and this year’s Only Lovers Left Alive, he captures his character’s predicament with such precision and craft, one can only hope he pursues more central dramatic roles in the future. Small, quiet moments become absorbing and moving in his presence; deft twitches and grimaces enough to convey the underlying struggle of his situation. Even when the film begins to lose some of its potency, it’s his characterisation that keeps the central relationship afloat.
The film’s greatest flaws are in its handling of minor characters and its pacing. Both Karim’s friend Nounours, and Claude, an odd squatting poet whom Benjamin befriends, are not given enough room to develop, resulting in plot developments which simply can’t be emotionally engaged with (Nounours’ arc specifically feels somewhat of an afterthought to the overarching narrative). Troublingly, this becomes a problem with the film as a whole, precisely because its greatest asset is sidelined in favour of an exploration of characters we never really get to know. The final thirty minutes of the film feel both rushed and forced in key places, most egregiously in the handling of Benjamin’s evolution, a change at odds with the slow-burning drama that served the first half of the film so well.
Nevertheless, before it forfeits this focused approach, the film carries an undisputed and palpable power. Though flawed and structurally underdeveloped, ‘Fièvres’ is a powerful exploration of cultural identity, family and rebellion in modern day France.
To read more from Tom, you can check out his blog here.