The Ayouch brothers are great filmakers. I am more familiar with Nabil’s work than that of Hicham, but after seeing Fevers, I am keen to seek out his earlier work. Unlike many works by contemporary Moroccan directors, the film does not revolve around immigration, exile or gender roles, although these are present in the background. Rather, Hicham Ayouch’s latest film tackles issues of family bonds, marginalisation and mental health head-on.
Benjamin is a 13 year old boy who has known only violence and care homes. When his mother is sent to prison, the Moroccan immigrant family of his father – whom he has not previously known – try to do the right thing by the boy, by taking him into their Parisian high-rise home. Benjamin is played by Didier Michon, already seen in Ayouch’s previous film, Fissures. His performance – as the disturbed, nihilistic and manipulative teenager – is incredible. He has a permanent semi-scowl and mocking smile etched on his face in defiance of the world. He embodies a seething hatred many more experienced actors would find challenging.
Benjamin pounds the pavements daily, enveloped in his headphones to cut out the world. As we explore his new surroundings with him, we notice other misfits, others who are marginalised. Although Benjamin demonstrates a certain sympathy with them – the transsexual postman; the troubled loner poet living in a dumped caravan; the mentally disabled uncle – he has no empathy. He never lets them in; never allows them to penetrate his defences. In Benjamin’s world, only Benjamin matters – although possibly even not that much. This is a child who, although only in his early teens, is already on a dedicated path to self-destruction.
Fevers is by far one of the most accomplished, moving and complete films I have seen by a Moroccan director. Although it is set among a Moroccan family in a soulless French tower block, the setting could be in any Western society and the themes are modern and universal. I could imagine exactly the same scenarios playing out in a Glasgow housing estate, for example, and the conclusion would be equally tragic.
Moroccan films seldom win awards in Marrakech, but Director Ayouch and actor Michon would be deserving recipients at tomorrow’s ceremony.