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ROME 2020

Review: The Shift

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- With his debut feature, centred on a terrorist attack in Brussels, Alessandro Tonda finds the right tone to tackle a burning topical issue without giving up on entertainment

Review: The Shift
Clotilde Hesme and Adamo Dionisi in The Shift

We are on a bus, among a group of adolescents talking about girls, parties and exams. With a long take, we follow these young people until the entrance of their school, and then in the entrance hall, where they meet their friends, joke and laugh together. But someone here does not share their carefree expression. Soon after, an explosion. This shocking sequence opens The Shift [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, the feature debut from Alessandro Tonda, playing in the Official Selection of the 15th Rome Film Fest. Set in Brussels, the film shows an Islamic terrorist attack (the Belgian capital really was the victim of three attacks on the morning of March 22, 2016) before turning its attention to an ambulance and the three characters on board: two paramedics and a 16-year-old boy, the latter wounded and wearing an explosive belt.

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This ambulance which, rather than bring salvation, is instead a loose cannon roaming the streets of the city, is the main set of this fast-paced film that looks the enemy in the face, an enemy who here has the features of a fragile teenager. The two paramedics, Isabelle (Clotilde Hesme) and Adamo (Adamo Dionisi), have no idea what is hiding under the sweatshirt of the little boy they rescued and who is still breathing after falling under the rubble of the school. When they find out, it is too late: the young muslim Eden (Adam Amara) has already recovered his senses and, although scared and physically weak, he intends to carry out his mission to the end, with the simple pressing of a button. Thus begins for the three people in the ambulance an unstoppable flight from one roadblock to another, in a city in a state of red alert. The two paramedics taken hostage are forced to act as if nothing was wrong and to medicate the boy threatening them, while the counter-terrorism squad deploys all its strength to hunt down the surviving would-be kamikaze.

Alessandro Tonda, who worked as an assistant director on films such as Suburra [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Stefano Sollima
film profile
]
and Sicilian Ghost Story [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
film profile
]
, and on the successful TV series Romanzo criminale and Gomorra, directs a dynamic action film which works very well, but entertainment isn’t the only goal of The Shift. By putting three characters who all have to deal with immigration differently, together in a vehicle ready to explode in the heart of the capital of Europe, the film also attempts to offer a glimpse of our contemporary reality. It imagines an alternative scenario to the sad news, one in which it would be possible to look at each other, break down the barriers and build a channel of communication between ourselves and others. The Shift is a good example of a feature debut with international appeal, and of a genre film which knows how to find the right tone to address a burning topical issue, without judgment and with respect. Finally, as said in the closing dedication of the film, this is a tribute "to those who fight on the frontlines without using any weapons", meaning doctors and nurses. A dedication which, in these times of pandemic, resonates more deeply than ever.

The Shift is an Italo-Belgian co-production between Notorious Pictures and Tarantula. The film is released in Italian cinemas on 5 November by Notorious.

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(Translated from Italian)

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