September 16, 2011


Frederic Jardin’s Sleepless Night is a taut, claustrophobic, and breathless chase and one of the most exciting films I’ve seen at TIFF.  Once night falls in the film, Jardin never breaks the tension as we follow a desperate father wind his way through a nightclub with no way out, no elaborate plan, and no easy solution to his dilemma.  Even more remarkable is how the film introduces so many players but keeps jumping around as different factions close in on our protagonist and his only options are to run, fight, hide, or all of the above.  It’s usually “all of the above.”

Sleepless Night hits the ground running as we see dirty cops Vincent (Tomer Sisley) and Manuel (Laurent Stocker) rob a duffel bag filled with cocaine from a couple of criminals.  During the robbery, Vincent gets recognized and as retaliation Jose Marciano (Serge Riaboukine)—mobster, nightclub owner, and rightful owner of the coke—kidnaps Vincent’s son.  Marciano will exchange the kid for the drugs, but Vincent wants to play it smart.  He takes the coke to the nightclub, hides the duffle bag in the ceiling of the men’s bathroom, and uses it as leverage so that he can safely retrieve his son rather than hand over the full amount and lose his bargaining chip.  Smart move, right?  Unfortunately for our man Vincent, the coke goes missing before he can get his son back and he’s forced into a desperate chase to retrieve the dope and save his son all while dodging Marciano and his goons, and save his son.  Complicating matters further is dirtier cop Lacombe (Julien Boisselier) and the angry mobsters who were going to buy the cocaine from Marciano.


One of the script’s greatest strengths is that Vincent is not the uber-cop.  He’s not trying to outwit all his opponents as much as he’s trying to stay in the game.  As long as he can keep them at bay and escape, he has a chance to keep moving and achieve his goals.  Sleepless Night lets us know strategy has no place here from the moment Vincent hides the coke and his gun inside the nightclub thinking those objects will protect him.  He has no elaborate traps and no plan to pick off his enemies one-by-one.  It’s a brilliant move because we’re forced to share in Vincent’s desperation as he looks for any exit he can find.  There’s hardly any time to breathe and when Vincent finally does have a few seconds to catch his breath, he’s only reminded of his son and that there’s no time to rest.

Jardin’s direction recalls Run Lola Run and the final act of Pusher.  The camera keeps moving and trying to take in all of the action.  Multiple scenes take place inside the crush of the nightclub’s dance floor and it’s impressive that Jardin can keep the focus trained on Vincent and his pursuers.  When an extended and brutal fight scene in a kitchen feels like a brief reprieve from the chase, you know that Jardin has nailed his tone and pacing.  There are moments where Jardin goes overboard on the shaky cam but Sleepless Night makes a strong case for why we can’t completely write off this kind of cinematography.


The nightclub is also a perfect setting for the film because it allows Jardin multiple rooms, different atmospheres, and new complications while still keeping Vincent trapped in the building.  The dance floor provides the pulsing bass and beats which pump up the adrenaline of Vincent being hunted by his pursuers.  Marciano’s tiny office is a nice visual metaphor for how Vincent has become trapped by his situation.  The luxurious dining room is a place of tranquility which is about to be disrupted by the madness of the chase.

Sleepless Night doesn’t re-write the action-thriller genre and it doesn’t bother with deep characterization or set up complex emotional relationships.  It’s about the chase and never letting fatigue set in.  Jardin makes it impossible to lose interest and he holds the film’s tension and energy without solely relying on a shaky camera.  He dips and dives, ducks and weaves, takes off-kilter camera angles, sprints through locations, hops between characters, and it all works to dizzying effect.  Some may skip the film because it doesn’t feature American actors and isn’t in English.  That’s incredibly unfair and painfully narrow-minded.  It doesn’t matter what language you speak when you can’t catch your breath.

Rating: B+

For all of our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my TIFF 2011 reviews so far:

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