Rat Fever


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Rat Fever
"A poem of a film, a thing of intense, erotic beauty whose underlying craft is deftly concealed."

Down in the slums of Recife, the 'Venice of Brazil', it's a hot, hot summer. Drugs, alcohol and casual sex are the order of the day. The people live in grinding poverty, wandering between delapidated homes and a bar called Saudade, but this is a place full of passion, a place with a life of its own that will endure and shout at the world even when individual lives are short. In this place dwells Zizo, the Poet, full of sound and fury, taking life by the throat but still unready for his Aeneid. his words are a tangle of observation and borrowed philosophy, occasionally profound, often beautiful. "I know nothing about poetry," says Spade, the friend he tests them on - but communication across that barrier is, perhaps, the point.

Thrown into the middle of the vibrant world we are at first bewildered, overwhelmed. Although this is a time of relaxation we feel that we are running to catch up. Assis plays around with the pace, now running, now slowing down for a languid, graceful vision of intercourse, carnal or verbal. Aerial shots present limned, lean bodies gorgeously acrobatic at play, elegant even when undertaking mundane actions. There are varied visions of beauty from the muscular to the obese, the luscious black and white cinematography celebrating every kind of flesh. Gender roles are divinely mutable, sexual choices made freely without approbation, though Zizo does get teased about his erotic interest in older women. The truth seems to be that he's directionless, caught up in every kind of exploration, except for when it comes to his political passion and his newsletter, Febre Do Ratto, a raging polemic against orthodoxy.

Copy picture

Played with gusto by the charismatic Irandhir Santos, Zizo is a man sometimes lost, often foolish, but always magnetic. His rallying cry, a demand for freedom to make mistakes, might seem abstract but has potent meaning when related to the way the poor are routinely blamed for their own circumstances. His stumbling journey to self realisation provides a focal point in an otherwise fractured narrative. Other stories coalesce around him, drawing us into the community. Into complicity. And then there's Eneida, the beautiful newcomer whose disinterest in sleeping with him drives him crazy. It doesn't seem to stem from a lack of desire - perhaps the passion between them is so intense that sex would be too dangerous, too likely to disappoint - but something "doesn't fit". Eneida is a muse of war, draped across the photocopier like an Atrocity Exhibition kit, provoking furious acts of speech.

Ostensibly incoherent yet astutely plotted, Rat Fever is an anarchic film over which Assis retains tight control. Its stunning imagery and playful way with words (often crude, often ugly, until their meanings shift), sweeps us along like the ever-rolling river, a natural phenomenon more forceful than the military parade. It's a poem of a film, a thing of intense, erotic beauty whose underlying craft is deftly concealed. Add to this a glorious soundtrack by Zombie Nation's Jorge Du Peixe and you have a captivating piece of cinema. It's a moment worth siezing.

Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2013
Share this with others on...
A passionate anarchist who believes in living in the moment comes into conflict with the strangely reticent woman wth whom he falls in love.

Director: Cláudio Assis

Writer: Hilton Lacerda

Starring: Vitor Araújo, Conceição Camaroti, Juliano Cazarré, Nanda Costa

Year: 2011

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: Brazil


Glasgow 2013

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Dogs In Space