Strong leads and a promising concept are not altogether validated in new French cop drama Night Shift/Police.
The opening is a misleading indicator with officers Omar Sy and Virginie Efira in the lunch room discussion about never sending out two women in a car, complete with “Leave your ovaries at home.” It’s not that film. However, the call to an incident of domestic violence and the glimpse of a street brawl where Efira is roughed up along with the men are attention getters.
We wonder why Sy is being marginalised until we understand the structure, with the unexplained shot of Iranian actor Payman Maadi (lead in Jodaeiye Nader az Simin/A Separation) and the sections named after each of the characters who will end in the police car. This doesn’t help the production, only repeating information we already know. Shooting the same scene from another camera position is not the innovation the makers think. Michael Curtiz did it in the twenties and Joshua Logan in the sixties.
There are interesting elements though - the judo workout between Efira and Sy which becomes erotic and the background of her impending abortion. Reviews repeatedly cite Sy’s description of "The smell of death. Soap won't help. When I get home, I undress in the corridor and count to sixty, so I don't bring this shit home.” Veteran Grégory Gadebois who only sniffs the whiskey the barman pours him, seems to be the least interesting character (“thirty years without a blemish on my record”) until the night the watch commander calls for volunteers because there is a fire in the shoddy pre-fab refugee camp where the caged buildings don’t even have emergency gates.
The officers who normally look after the place are too busy to escort the Tajik, we recognise as Maadi, about the time the camp guards remove the safety razor blade he’s hidden in his mouth. He’s to be put on a plane back to his country.
A woman prisoner runs up to tell Efira, Sy and Gadebois, who have taken the assignment (this is not too convincing), that the International Court is still considering Maadi’s appeal and Virginie pries open the poorly sealed dispatch papers to find he claims to have been tortured before his escape. Another of the film’s stand out scenes is the description of his handling - asphyxiation by cigarette in a gas mask etc. Sy says refugees always invent these stories but we don’t think he believes it.
Efira is sufficiently moved to remove the prisoner’s cuffs and the three officers, each facing a crisis of their own, argue about whether they should violate their official roles and intervene. One attention getter is that Maadi speaks no French and has no idea that his fate is being decided.
This is made more involving because it is being played out in the night time Paris roads, a fast food joint and airport approach. Its high contrast colour makes an interesting contrast to the yellow nocturnal Roubaix, une lumière. Veteran cameraman Yves Angelo (Un coeur en hiver) gets a small type credit as script consultant and may have introduced these atmospherics.
It’s a nice touch that the key decision comes down to a glimpsed airline official. A measure of the film’s success is that the leads grow more sympathetic as it progresses with their group, standing together after the outcome, a telling image.
Director-writer Anne Fontaine’s output is uneven. Her 2011 Mon pire cauchemar with Benoît Poelvoorde is particularly choice. This one isn’t as good as that but it’s still got quite a bit going for it.