Fever is Agnieszka Holland's film from 1980, whose prophetic quality we can now see. It was created while Solidarity triumphed, and shows the fall of another revolution – the one that took place in 1905 on the lands of the Russian partition.
This bitter portrait of the defeat of a national and social uprising had its premiere when a big part of the Polish society was euphoric after the events in Gdańsk Shipyard. Fever is seen as a display of the artist's great intuition, a Cassandric portent of martial law, which was approaching Poland when the film premiered. Yet another experience was the direct impulse for making the film: in 1968 the director witnessed the sad ending of the Prague Spring, after which society entered a long period of impasse. The historical context is not most important though, because Fever is an extremely universal film which can be referenced to any revolution.
Holland's film was based on a very interesting, yet difficult to adapt, novel by Andrzej Strug entitled Dzieje jednego pocisku / History of one bullet, published in 1910. Its narrative is complicated, there are no main characters, but many threads and episodes. The plot binder is the bullet from the title, constructed for a revolutionary organisation and passed from one conspirator to another.
Holland's film is similar in this aspect, but the screenwriter, Krzysztof Teodor Toeplitz, simplified the original's structure and lessened the number of characters appearing on screen. It was definitely a good idea: Fever's protagonists are both credible and full-blooded, and can be treated as incarnations of some general traits.
In the movie's first part the key role is played by a fighter from the Polish Socialist Party, Leon (Olgierd Łukaszewicz). He's a "modern” leader" – not a romantic, 19th-century desperado, but a cold strategist who ruthlessly manages the lives of his subordinates. Can one surrender ones' personal responsibility and justify it as historical necessity? When does the goal justify the means? The ethical problems referenced in Fever can trespass the historical context and can be referenced both to the functioning of 20th-century totalitarian regimes and and to modern forms of terrorism.
Holland doesn't idealize the revolutionists' actions: violence is shown in a drastic, revolting way. It's enough to mention the naturalistic scene wherein the kind-hearted villager Wojtek (Adam Ferency) kills a supposed spy. The executioner is not able to kill his victim quickly, so the execution becomes a slow torture. The utopian project of the revolution contrasts with the awful method of realizing political goals.
Those who suffer the most in Fever are the naive believers in great ideas, easily manipulated by people like Leon. For example Kama (Barbara Grabowska), disposed of to burn in the revolutionary fire by the charismatic leader. The martyred girl is in love with Leon, who treats her as an instrument (as a sexual object or as a tool in his terrorist attacks) and will have to pay for her commitment with her mental health. Her sacrifice will turn out to be futile, just as Wojtek's, who will fall into the secret police's hands. Fever is most of all a story about the trap of history, which imperceptibly draws the unconscious fighters in.
Two years after the revolution chaos reigns, the party is divided, bandits shoot innocent citizent and idealists become an easy target for insidious informers, collaborating with the tsar's Okhrana. The only ones who can feel safe are anarchists such as Gryziak (Bogusław Linda), a radical, free as a bird, who despises death and any form of hierarchy. It's no longer clear who's on which side, and the revolutionists' energy is wasted because of the manipulators and secret agents. Holland seems to say that this is an inherent stage of any social fight, and what happened in Poland after 1981 confirmed this thesis. As Maria Janion wrote, Fever is a 'brutal, cruel, wild film. And at the same time, in this wildness – extremely precise, even cold' (Maria Janion, Filozofia bomby, 'Kino' 1981, vol. 7). The stuffy, 'feverish' atmosphere of the dying revolution was amazingly created through cinematic form. The grim world shown in the adaptation of Strug's novel, is dark and shown through the dynamic camera of Jacek Petrycki, which expressed the protagonists' emotional turmoil. Agnieszka Holland's brutally honest and ironic perspective finds a great equivalent in Fever's audiovisual style.
Gorączka / Fever, Poland 1980. Directed by: Agnieszka Holland. Written by: Krzysztof Teodor Toeplitz. Cinematography: Jacek Petrycki. Music: Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz. Set design: Andrzej Przedworski. Starring: Olgierd Łukaszewicz (Leon), Barbara Grabowska (Kama), Adam Ferency (Wojtek Kiełza), Bogusław Linda (Gryziak), Krzysztof Zaleski ("Czarny"), Zbigniew Zapasiewicz (ojciec Leona) i inni.
Produced by: Zespół Filmowy X. Colour, 116 min.
Author: Robert Birkholc, translated by: N. Mętrak-Ruda, December 2015.