Night Shift- French Film Festival UK March 2021 Edition – Film Review

Night Shift explores the way in which one night can change lives with its tale of three police officers who volunteer for night duty. Each officer is seeking to escape their own personal problems and the film provides an emotive insight into their lives throughout the night’s unusual journey. It is a well-paced, moralistic examination of the role of police officers with a stellar cast, including Omar Sy of The Intouchables fame, to keep audiences engaged.

Night Shift, also known as Police, featured as the second film in the French Film Festival’s online programme. The film had its World Premiere at the Berlin Film Festival 2020 and was nominated for the Official Jury Prize at the Quebec International Film Festival and so it has been noted on the Festival circuit. Based on a novel of the same name, Police, director Anne Fontaine has attempted to transfer the same level of introspective examination from the characters however the execution may not always be convincing.

Night Shift’s plot centres around the device of flashbacks and unspoken communication as the three police officers embark on an unusual mission to transfer a migrant to the border to be deported. There are language barriers in effect but somehow the main currency of communication is instinct. Instinctively, the police officers feel that it is their duty to assist despite being in receipt of scant information concerning the prisoner, which may seem contrived. That sense of suspense lingers throughout the night as layers of the police officers’ lives are unwrapped, via flashbacks, providing that audience insight as scenarios overlap from each officer’s perspective creating empathy for the respective officers. It is an effective device, with the film’s three chapters and close up camera angles, creating that context and understanding towards the officers’ differing reactions.

Virginie Efira and Omar Sy in Night Shift
Virginie Efira and Omar Sy in Night Shift

Virginie, is the only female officer as part of this mission and she acts as the moral guiding light interweaving the various strands of the plot. At times, the scenarios in which Virginie encounters, often alone, are unsettling as the film encompasses domestic violence incidents highlighting the dangers for female police officers. Virginie Efira captivates as Virginie torn between police duties and moral obligations as she suffers from a crisis of conscience during the night.

With the female lens, Fontaine permits this emotional tension to present a refreshingly humane viewpoint of the officers and ultimately questions the role of an officer and particularly a female police officer. The female officer is subjected to gender insults on duty and comments, whilst said in jest, about a woman’s quest for equality at work whilst still requiring days off from work for female related ailments. Virginie is also the officer with direct interaction when the refugee is transferred from a scene of chaos to their custody and this effect, understandably, results in her attempts to convince her colleagues to invoke their moral compass.

The various personal realities for the officers are blurred, in this gritty and gripping tale, requiring a complex balancing act. A police officer’s duties are effectively to protect and serve with enforcement of the law as one of their main responsibilities. But the question arises regarding any moral duties, should police officers be affected by human rights issues and questions about moral principles? Should police officers’ personal beliefs form part of the judgements made within their day-to-day duties or should there be a distinct separation? Fontaine, skilfully, forces the audience to undertake a level of introspection examining such theories and questioning our reactions in a similar situation.

Omar Sy as Aristide in Night Shift
Omar Sy as Aristide in Night Shift

Night Shift presents these fascinating questions subtly within its even pacing. Whilst there may not be the anticipated highly dramatic moments within this police thriller, these are replaced by simmering, understated reactions lending to the philosophical debate of morality at the heart of the film. The muted backdrop accentuates this sense of moral purpose further as demonstrated by Fontaine’s employment of the ‘show, don’t tell technique’. The audience alongside the other officers are invited to assume knowledge of the intentions of others without clear direction, relying solely on the characters’ glances, which adds to the terse nature of the film.

Night Shift is a compelling, immersive tale exploring the impact of one night’s incident on the lives of three police officers. The film illustrates that the simplest of gestures and the ability to question remain at the cornerstone of our civilisation and emphasises the need for humane perspectives where the price of individual freedom is at stake. Night Shift is an affecting, subjective police drama which stretches Omar Sy beyond his usual comedic roles and will draw audiences in to its dynamics.

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