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SBU Spring 2021 Film Series: Night Shift Review

Night Shift, directed by Anne Fontaine, is a thought-provoking film that will make the viewer ask themselves various philosophical questions. Through the screenplay that they wrote, Anne Fontaine and Claire Barre portray very flawed characters in situations where they have to examine their ethics and make decisions.

Virginie, Aristide, and Erik are all simultaneously police officers in France and flawed characters, as they all have made questionable decisions or have questionable opinions. When they have to work together to transport a prisoner who is actually not a prisoner and just a refugee named Tohirov, Virginie formulates the idea that they might be able to save Tohirov from facing certain death upon return to his country if they intervene in the orders they were given. 

The beginning of the movie focuses on introducing the characters of Virginie, Aristide, Erik, and Tohirov, telling segments of the movie from each of their perspectives respectively. However, the least perspective the audience gets is from Tohirov himself. Even when he tries to speak to Virginie, Aristide, and Erik in a language other than French and English, the audience is not given English subtitles. This enables the audience that does not speak Tohirov’s language to put themselves both in the shoes of Virginie, Aristide, and Erik, as they are not able to understand what Tohirov says because of the language barrier, and in the shoes of Tohirov himself because he cannot understand what anyone around him says because he does not speak French. In this way, leaving the subtitles out of Tohirov’s dialogue enables the audience to experience empathy for Tohirov since he is caught in a situation that he cannot communicate with anyone around him or defend himself. The lack of subtitles allows the audience to feel empathy for Virginie, Aristide, and Erik, as well, because they want to help Tohirov and even tried to help him but cannot seem to do so successfully because of the language barrier. This also creates a space for the audience to think about language barriers between people and police officers and how such barriers are dealt with in real life.

In a conversation I had with Alan Inkles about why he chose Night Shift for the SBU Spring 2021 Film Series, he said that, “It felt like a story that needed to be told. We don’t think that much about these kinds of issues, right? I mean, we think about immigration, coming in, but do we think that much about what happens when someone gets sent back? And what role do we have in that?” The questions of “what happens when someone gets sent back? And what role do we have in that?” are two central questions that Night Shift asks, as the film inspires the viewer to ponder such questions in their own mind by showing Tohirov’s story.

Much of the movie is shot from outside of windows of the police car looking in, as well as from inside the car looking out. These shots often have beautiful reflections in them of the world of lights that surrounds them. These lights have a simultaneous eerie calming effect and tension accelerator on the tension in the car that is between Virginie and Aristide, as well as the tension between Tohirov and Virginie, Aristide, and Erik. 

The acting was also very believable, with Omar Sy as Aristide, Virginie Efira as Virginie, Payman Maadi as Tohirov, and Grégory Gadebois as Erik all giving wonderful performances of their respective characters.

The ending of Night Shift resists full closure, as part of its main plot is left open-ended, and I was not expecting it to end the way that it did. Night Shift is a very entertaining thriller that inspires thought about several hard-hitting issues and philosophical quandaries, including the nature of language and how it functions in governmental systems. If you enjoy thrillers that pose philosophical questions, this movie is one that you will enjoy.

Lauren Taglienti is a writer of short stories, essays, articles, novels, and plays whose work has appeared in numerous publications. She is studying English and creative writing at Stony Brook University and interns for bestselling author and filmmaker Adriana Trigiani. Lauren is an open book who thrives when she is vulnerable because that is how she conquers her fears and connects with people. Her passions include health, wellness, self-improvement, being creative, helping others, and spreading the messages of empathy and kindness.
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