Screenplay: Maïwenn, Emmanuelle Bercot
Starring: Karin Viard, Joey Starr, Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Maïwenn
Producer: Alain Attal
Running Time: 127 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
For a change I thought I'd open this review with a fact about this film that I found quite surprising; the gritty police drama Polisse is directed and co-written by (as well as stars) Maïwenn, who was the blue alien opera singer Diva Plavalaguna in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element. I don't know why I found that of particular interest, but it seemed like such an odd fit I thought it was worth a mention.
Polisse follows the day to day workings and after hours lives of the Child Protection Unit of the Paris Police Department. A young photojournalist (Maïwenn herself) is assigned to follow the unit for several months and she (along with the audience) gets to discover the horrific acts perpetrated behind closed doors throughout the city as well as get up close and personal with one of the officers, Fred (Joey Starr), with whom she starts an affair.
Maïwenn spent time working with real police officers to inspire the film and indeed the structure and presentation is that of an observer studying their activities (embodied by her character in the film of course). We never linger on single cases – rarely getting closure on any of them, and the visual style is of a fly on the wall documentary, so everything is experienced from a distance. This prevents the extremely heavy subject matter from getting too hard to bear, but allows for a large volume of cases to be presented, creating a sense of the overwhelming horrors that the officers have to face every day. From the opening scene where one tries to question a 6 year old girl about whether or not her father has been touching her inappropriately, we know this isn't going to be easy going.
Saying that, there's a surprising amount of humour in the film, or at least the characters don't always take things as seriously as expected. This is done in a perfectly believable fashion, showing how people in tough jobs cope with being faced with such disturbing acts day in, day out. The best example of this is where a group of officers get into a fit of hysterics during an interview with a teenager who was pressurised into a sexual act. It's uncomfortable as you feel for the girl, but the ridiculous (yet believable) nature of her description is undeniably funny.
Unfortunately, as strong as much of the film is, especially in its first half, it kept losing me as it went on. The film brings in far too many soapy sub-plots looking into the officers' private lives for my liking. I realise that Maïwenn wants to show the effect the work is having on these characters, but everyone seems to be getting divorced, pregnant, having an affair etc. all at the same time. It just seemed too much for me, cluttering the narrative and diluting what generally was an effectively raw and naturalistic film. There was also a tendency to bring all the officers into the room at once when something dramatic (i.e. 'shouty') was happening, which seemed a bit over the top and unnecessary.
On the whole though, the punchy and incredibly frank style of Polisse, in showing the unforgivably harsh job the unit has, is most impressive and generally the film works very well. Its two hour running time powers forward and the lack of sentimentality is refreshing. It manages to shock without milking things, which is admirable. It's just a shame Maïwenn felt the need to over-dramatise the protagonists' lives outside of work.
Polisse is out on 29th October on DVD in the UK, released by Artificial Eye. I got sent a watermarked screener so I can't comment on the picture and audio quality of the final release. I haven't seen any special features advertised.