Chances are that you won’t have heard of the director or any of the cast, and you’d be forgiven too for not getting overly excited by the prospect of a film about tensions on the production line in a French provincial bottle factory. Ignore this compelling portrait of masculinity under pressure, however, and you’d be missing out on a truly gripping drama, one of the year’s very best films. Former critic Philippe Le Guay shows admirable directorial control of the slowly simmering tensions which bubble up when ambitious Pierre (Gerald Laroche) transfers to the higher-paying overnight shift and meets escalating hostility from macho co-worker Fred (Marc Barbe). What starts out as mean-spirited but harmless joshing soon becomes more threatening. Pierre does his best to understand his tormentor’s troubled background (a father in residential care, a broken marriage) but can’t quite face a physical confrontation with a much bigger and more powerful rival. The situation worsens when Pierre’s own son starts copying Fred’s bullying antics in the school playground . . .
Although it might so easily have turned into a tacky commercial thriller, Le Guay’s film displays a steely reserve which aims straight for modern manhood’s most sensitive parts. All this New Man reasonableness is all very well, but what if you have to punch your way back towards self-respect? Would your so-called friends really lift a finger to help you? And what does it do to a father-son relationship when the latter sees the bully as the ‘real man’? Night Shift (the original French title, Trois huit or 3 by 8, refers to the way a day is divided into three 8-hour shifts in some factories) never pretends there are easy answers to any of these questions, as tension steadily builds towards confrontation, subtle erotic longings flicker between ostensibly heterosexual males, and there’s a hard look at the ongoing cycle by which the abused become abusers. Complex, brilliantly acted, this is talking-point cinema at its finest.oTrevor Johnston. (France, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 95 mins.)