'Fever': Montreal Review
Two French students reinvent Leopold and Loeb
MONTREAL — A fresh twist on the Leopold and Loeb theme whose fixation on WWII history is only one of a few engaging peculiarities, Raphael Neal's Fever suffers little for even its questionable decisions. The directing debut of an actor whose short career consists of very small performances for top-shelf auteurs (Chabrol, Denis, Sofia Coppola), the French import has style but only a tenuous pedigree to attract Stateside auds; given the right attention at fests, it could make a viable if small arthouse release.
Damien and Pierre (Martin Loisillon and Pierre Moure) are upper-crust kids studying philosophy who enter the film as killers. We don't see them debate the act or the plan, and the deed itself is just a few muffled grunts accompanying a black screen; then they're scurrying out onto the sidewalk, dropping one black glove as they get away.
Zoe (Julie-Marie Parmentier), an optician who lives near the victim, sees the glove but doesn't stop the boys. Only the next day, when she learns that a woman has been strangled in her own apartment, does she wonder if the two things are connected — a feeling all but confirmed when she later sees how nervous Pierre is to recognize her on the street.
Rather than serve as their Jimmy Stewart, inching toward exposing the boys as in Rope, Zoe has a more puzzling reaction, one that resonates with the contagion and passions described in the song (heard here in multiple renditions) that gives the film its name. If Peggy Lee's famous version of that tune mixed flirtation with transgression, Neal's film has a similar recipe, using a sometimes playful score by the mononymed French musician Camille to accompany what is otherwise serious drama.
As the two friends take turns being paranoid about discovery, the rationale they'd been using — "for it to be a crime, there has to be a personal motive" — starts to look uncomfortably similar to the "just following orders" excuse of Nazi war criminals. Sublimating their own guilt, they throw themselves into research about the infamous collaborator Maurice Papon and readings of Hannah Arendt's book about Adolf Eichmann. The banality of evil applies in the present-tense action as well, as crime and punishment are divorced from each other, reconfigured according to the laws of adolescence rather than justice.
Production company: Strutt Films, Jour2Fete
Cast: Martin Loizillon, Pierre Moure, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Philippe Laudenbach, Pascal Cervo, Francoise Lebrun, Marie Bunel
Director: Raphael Neal
Screenwriters: Raphael Neal, Alice Zeniter
Based on the novel by Leslie Kaplan
Producers: Raphael Neal, Jean-Philippe Rouxel, Mathilde Trichet
Director of photography: Nicolaos Zafiriou
Production designer: Coline Debee
Costume designers: Carole Dumoulin, Marlene Serour
Editors: Anna Brunstein, Charlotte Soyez
No rating, 81 minutes