A gripping psychological drama played out between two workers in the grim environs of a provincial French factory, Nightshift packs more tension and emotional punch than many grandstanding commercial thrillers. A major discovery at the Berlin festival, the film comes as a complete surprise from writer-director Philippe Le Guay, a former critic who previously made the costume drama The Two Fragonards (1989) and the pleasant but insubstantial Lorhario comedy L’annee Juliette (1995). Shot in a naturalistic style, shorn of the slightest gloss, Nightshift recallsoin look and blue collar settingoLaurent Cantet’s Human Resources, but without the political trappings.
Pierre (Gerald Laroche) is a slightly goofy-looking worker in a glass factory. Straightforward as the day is long, but nursing a quiet ambition for a better life for his wife and 10-year old son, he switches to the night shift for the extra money. Pierre is readily accepted by most of the tightly-knit team but almost immediately is targeted by Fred (Marc Barbe), a cocky big guy who professes friendship but never ceases to taunt him. Pierre finds himself caught up in a dizzying succession of lies, pretence and psychotic outbursts from the disturbed Fred, who’s driven by demons that he seems unable to control.
The film’s main strength is the way in which it constantly disorients the viewer, who, like Pierre, is repeatedly convinced that Fred has mended his ways. Laroche manages to make Pierre’s patience a sign of inner strength rather than ‘unmanly’ weakness. As Fred, Barbe gives a performance of simmering, scarcely contained physical threat, punctuated by moments of apparent honesty and tenderness, that motors the drama.France, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 96 min.