The Shift Review: A brave debut but with too many limitations

We conventionally consider it in terms of a straight line, which starts from a point A to develop and end at a point B, time. In reality, in the space of an existence, it is the unpredictability that shakes this line, making it undulating, an existential fibrillation, a roller coaster of falls and rises. Call it chance, fate, or fate, but our lives are marked by a nature steeped in surprises and uncertaintiesjolts and tsunamis that catch us unprepared by opening gates or doors to new aspects, new universes, new emotions.

And it is in the power of temporal accidentality and total randomness that the director Alessandro Tonda entrusts the incipit of his debut film, The Shifton Sky and NOW (don’t miss the Sky and NOW releases in November 2022). A precise detail, that of a clock, which refers to the passing of time and the totally unpredictable dramatic storm that will upset the lives of children limited to the simple role of extra, and at the same time as pawns of a domino that will see their tiles collapse one after the other.

Dramatic odyssey by ambulance

The hands of the clock run normally, marking the last moments of life in a school microcosm in Brussels. Borrowing the woven tragedies and exploits on too many pages of history, The Shift starts from a terrorist act to elevate itself to the character of travelof an Odyssey no longer towards home, but towards a personal hell that burns flesh and simmers a revenge ready to drag other innocent people into its flames, such as paramedics Isabelle and Adamo.

On the one hand we have Eden and Abel, two young students who pull out two guns and start shooting shouting vengeance and purification at the infidels of the West, until Abel opens his jacket and blows himself up. On the other we have Isabelle and Adam, paramedics called by the central to assist the victims of the attack, but who, in a twist of fate, load Eden on their ambulance. What arises from this meeting / clash between saviors and torturers, victims and executioners, prejudices and misunderstandings, is a race against time on the wave of survival instinct, with his eyes fixed on a detonator that the boy threatens to set off.

The outbreak of hatred in the world of tolerance

The one written and directed by Alessandro Tonda is a courageous work, which was born as an act of denunciation towards an unjustified hatred and towards acts of a terrorist matrix carried out by malleable minds because they are young, susceptible, immature, nourished by a sense of misunderstanding which will be done specter profiteer the shadow of terrorism.

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The young attackers stand up as witnesses and representatives of others, too many, boys and girls who lend themselves to scapegoats and bearers of the fire of revenge for a country that perhaps they have never even visited, cloaked in a fanaticism that has taken them, alienated them, distancing them from just values. And it must not be a coincidence then that the location designated for Tonda’s debut work is Brussels, a crossroads of different cultures and the beating heart of the European Union. A city that lives on the oxygen of tolerance and solidarity, but that in front of Tonda’s gaze it lends itself to witnessing chases, kidnappings and explosions made pretexts to investigate and analyze the clinical state of a Europe divided between nationalist pressures, and the need to safeguard its people from jihadist attacks.

Soldiers and prayers, holy war and the West’s crimes against its people, are too big concepts when put into the mouth of a boy as small as Eden. And it is above all in the heart of this paradox that we find the strength of a story like that of Tonda. A denunciation in cinematic format that soon loses its value, it becomes deliquescent, and its connections weakened, weakened. There is something stagnating after the initial explosion and the ambulance ride that stops working. The strings that bind together the lives of protagonists held together by a race against time and against the scale of events, weaken until they lose, piece by piece, the elements that compose them.

Claustrophobic looks and intimistic ambition

There is so much ambition in The Shiftbut Tonda’s film it is placed above all on the launching pad of hyperrealism. That of the director is a camera that chases its protagonists, snatching away a character role in its own right. Its presence is felt, it is not hidden, and with an undulatory way it oscillates, like a moving body. Away from Gus Van Sant’s expansive yet claustrophobic shots in Elephantthe director approaches Denis Villeneuve’s intimate gaze in Polytechnique. Putting himself on the same visual level as his protagonists, Tonda reduplicates their movements, following them closelyto the point of eliminating the distances between their drama and the spectatorial one.

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He is not afraid to sweeten the Tonda images; although falling into the universe of pure fiction, the scenes of tortured bodies, of blood and amputated limbs are suddenly cloaked in reality. They are narrative repropositions of mnemonic legacies impressed by television news services, amateur videos audiovisual testimonies of real horrors. The will of the director of move your work away from its fictional nature to bring it closer to the documentary one. A naturalistic vision that leaves the school corridors to anchor itself in the reduced space of an ambulance.

A tragedy that loses its power

The tragedy experienced in the medical cabin rises to a universal tragedy. A metonymic vision that speaks of universality, a reduced-scale representation of traumas and hearts that beat with a tachycardic rhythm and pale faces covered in sweat. A claustrophobia enclosed in the narrow space of an emergency vehiclethe one that surrounds the three protagonists, and that voluntarily reduces the movement capacity of the camera.

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A good choice because it is functional to the intimate gaze sought by the director, supported by restricted shots that give little space for action to their characters, blocked in the role entrusted to them by the author of victims and executioners. Nevertheless, if at the filmic level everything is fluid and cohesive, from the point of view of the narrative rhythm something gives way in the long distance. The ambulance ride, the kidnapping of the two paramedics by the hand of a boy whose name should refer to heaven instead becoming hell, is a sequencing of moments initially charged with anguish, but which in their continuous repetition lose that breath of disquiet and suspense that fed them. A fault in the system that cannot be affected by the rendering of the characters, each of which has a credible and well-developed narrative arc. The problem is, if anything, to be found in the repetition of events itself.

On the one hand the mobilization of the police, on the other that of the ambulance ride. In between, the almost total absence of a moment of perturbation, of an emotional jolt that drags the work towards an emotional and adrenaline-fueled evolution. The initial shock subsides, settling on the revival of an ambulance that runs without ever moving from the starting point. The infusion, the checkpoints, are elements that try to stimulate a cathartic rise in spectators now addicted to the nature of those images. To give an alienating sense that excludes for a moment the spectatorial identification in the diegetic context is also an unsuitable choice from the point of view of dubbing.

Adamo Dionisi’s self-dubbing of his character is forced and the Roman accent clashes with the surrounding context proposed here, negatively affecting the process of suspension of reality. For a film focused on the naked and crude representation of violence, even an element such as dubbing for the Italian public turns out to be an essential element in this objective. Which is missing here entirely.

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It’s an interesting and captivating wrapper that of The Shift, but which contains within it a not very dazzling and somewhat fragile narrative core. If the narrative foundations follow those of films like Collateral by Michael Mann (it’s never too late to resume ours Collateral review), think of the ambulance ride similar to the taxi ride of the Foxx-Cruise duo, or The young age of the Dardenne Brothers, they soon see the lime that held them together crumbling, falling into reiteration and loss of tension.

What follows from it it is a cinema system much more suited to a short film rather than a 79-minute film. Yet it is in that driving thrust of movement, of that “displacement” praised in the title that we find the essence of vision for a film like The Shift: a movement that is more interior than mechanical, a movement of gaze towards the unheard, the fragile, towards “all those who fight at the front without using any weapon“.

The Shift Review: A brave debut but with too many limitations