With a short film, it’s particularly difficult to hit all the right notes in order to evoke a certain feeling. While trying to do so, some of the makers indulge heavily in verbal communication, while others try to make the best use of every tool in their hand. With ‘Fiebre Austral (Austral Fever)’, the director Thomas Woodroffe presents precise details for the world around a lonely woman in her mid-forties. The chilling climate of the mountains in Southern Chile doesn’t just act as a specified beauty in her milieu. The whole film embodies this atmosphere. It’s the craft that holds the script altogether.
Perhaps that’s what works exceptionally well for this film. It tries to convey the relationship between a character and the surrounding with tonal elements so well, that it is impossible to dismiss its impact. The beauty lies in how that largely complements the narrative. By tone, I do mean the actual tone- the sepia shades and the greys around the actual whites of the snow- but also the gentle tonal shifts which are benefited by the assured direction. As a result, the film does not fall prey to the gimmick of presenting merely a color palette for a mood piece. Every other choice being made keeps adding layers to an already impressive narrative.
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While speaking about Amanda (the aforementioned woman), it dwells more into what her surrounding means to her or how it affects her. When her son Daniel is bringing Octavio, an injured friend to their place; the long take without any movement shares enough to know about her routine. She’s looking from inside the house through a window while ironing clothes. The monotony is instantly broken when she hears the shouting from the outside. And yet the camera stays there. We understand that the time here passes at a snail’s pace. The monotonous chores are the most she could indulge in. And since there’s hardly anything out there, it creates an awry feeling about this place; making it even more distant from any trace of civilization.
In such conditions, a guest comes to their house, wounded, in the need for help. Amanda finds it to be her duty, rather her only duty at the time. Her complaisant nature is evident even through the simplest moments, be it the extra efforts taken while cleaning his clothes or helping him to get into the water to bathe. And the mutual affection is evident from the slight glances or even a casual smile. A sort of affection, which makes Daniel uncomfortable to almost feel like a stranger, also gives her and Octavio, a little comfort they seem to seek. Amanda finds something in him, that gives a little meaning to her aloof existence. Their little game of hide-and-seek whether to express their affection or not takes this strangely comforting notion to another level.
As a result, the sensory joy or discomfort felt by the characters is clearly palpable. The wound is not just theirs. And healing isn’t the most important fact about this piece either.