One reviewer billed POLISSE as a series of THE WIRE condensed to two hours, but there are closer similarities to LAW AND ORDER: SVU, with the focus on a squad of cops in Paris’s ‘Child Protection Unit’ being something like the ‘Special Victims Unit’. The roster of cases covers paedophilia and violent child abuse in a variety of forms, and like its televisual influences does not shy away from the repulsive and the disgusting; several tense interrogation scenes force characters on the side of the law to make it clear that they need the most explicit information possible. This all makes for difficult viewing, especially when one finds out that the cases in the film were true, researched by director and actress Maïwenn.
Respect him, if not for his badass name, then for his badass performance.
Maïwenn Le Besco, or ‘Maïwenn’ as she is publicly credited, wrote the first draft screenplay from cases she gathered from the Child Protection Unit, but was then joined by Emanuelle Bercot. Maïwenn stars also as Melissa – the new photo-journalist commissioned by the state to document cases in the CPU. She stirs up trouble with volatile officer Fred, brilliantly acted by Joey Starr. Respect him, if not for his badass name, then for his badass performance. This is set against Nadine’s (played by Karin Viard) ongoing divorce and the emotional tumult which affects her work.
The struggle between relationships at home, power play and politics at work, and the continual horror of the nature of their work, become apparent early. We’re dropped in the middle of drama, not just at the start of the film, but at the start of many scenes. The jump cuts from an argument at home to a new case in the interrogation room, for example, lets the multiple-plot structure develop independently.
The characters are three-dimensional, slipping humanity into snippets of screen-time and harrowing vignettes.
Potentially it has all of the elements of cheesy cop show clichés: the hard-drinking maverick; the struggle through divorce; the photographer snapping shots of everything, disturbing due process… but instead of turning out ham-fisted and overblown like NYPD BLUE, the film is exceptionally good for two reasons. The characters are three-dimensional, slipping humanity into snippets of screen-time and harrowing vignettes. They’re all flawed, honourable and hilarious at times.
Secondly, Maïwenn’s directing is superb. She gives us black comedy – the begging ex-husband snuffed by the match cut of the divorcee who sneers the rest of his lines derisively – and action. But at times, the camera lingers like an awkward guest, and a character’s silent stare can stir up the icky mess of feelings surrounding child abuse. And it shows: the officers have just as hard a time dealing with the cases they face every day as the viewer does. But aside from the macabre content and gritty portrayal, there is room for humour. One particularly black scene has the squad in stitches whilst interrogating a girl who offered fellatio to win back her smartphone.
Very deserving of its Cannes Jury Prize, POLISSE is entertaining and thoughtful – one for fans of LA HAINE and THE WIRE.
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