A Spell Of Fever


Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

A Spell Of Fever
"Safia Benhaim has constructed a haunting film."

Winner of the Tiger Award for Short Films at Rotterdam 2015, A Spell of Fever (La Fièvre) takes us on a stream of consciousness journey through Morocco and its political past, concluding with the beginning of the country's Arab Spring in February 2011. Following a small girl (Ouidad Benzarah), the film mixes personal memories with complex political history and upheavals into a fevered, dreamlike melange. The memories and experiences belong to an unnamed (and unseen) woman returning to Morocco after 30 years in political exile.

The girl could either be the woman as a child - as she relives the past in her nocturnal reverie - or the spirit of this absent woman has appeared to the girl in her own dreams as she explores a landscape that is at once both alien and familiar to her. In long takes, the camera elegantly glides through crowded urban spaces and out into the countryside with the images bathed in a pinkish violet hue as twilight approaches. Going in search of the woman's childhood home, the girl instead reaches the coastline and an Escher-like, half-built and abandoned construction of brick and concrete.

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The structure could be taken as a physical manifestation of either her memories (the girl wanders up stairs and in and out of dark 'rooms') or the formative foundations of the woman's life - the things that shaped her but that had to be abandoned before she was fully formed, an interpretation that chimes with the memory of a police raid during which her mother was perched on a wall that she had built only the day before in order to hide the family's books ("sitting on Lenin, Marx, Eluard, Balzac..."). That this unfinished structure is not the place where her mother built the wall also speaks to the rootlessness of exiles - she cannot return to where she is from because it is no longer the same place.

The nebulous nature of dreams and memories - and their quicksilver quality of changing when revisited - make A Spell Of Fever a difficult film to pin down. However this hallucinatory changeability suits the nightmarish loop - déjà vu or the cyclical nature of repressive experiences lived by multiple generations? - that Morocco underwent within the woman's lifetime, as a country liberated from French colonisers was then repressed by the returning monarchy (the film also highlights that such violent histories are not exclusive to Morocco). In her use of vivid and poetic imagery (sometimes described over a black screen rather than seen) and an ominous strings-based soundtrack, director Safia Benhaim has constructed a haunting film that ends with another wave of resistance forming on Morocco's streets while spectres of the past look on.

Reviewed on: 14 Sep 2015
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One feverish night a girl encounters the spirit of a woman returning to Morocco from lengthy political exile.

Director: Safia Benhaim

Writer: Safia Benhaim

Starring: Ouidad Benzarah, Simohamed Fettaka

Year: 2015

Runtime: 40 minutes

Country: France, Morocco


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