Cannes Film Fest 2011 (World Premiere, Competition)–“Polisse,” the third feature by the talented French actress-director Maiwenn Le Basco, centers on the daily grind of the Police Department’s Juvenile Protection Unit in a Parisian suburb. It’s an ensemble-driven piece, in which at least dozen characters are put under close scrutiny as they go about their daily routines on and off work.
Maiwenn has previously made “All About Actresses” and “Forgive Me,” her personal feature debut about a daughter’s relationship with her abusive father. Both films have travelled the global festival circuit, but received limited exposure in the U.S. An entrepreneurial American distributor should take this intriguing picture, which may find audiences in urban centers.
One of the film’s ironies is that the individuals (and the crimes against minors) they interrogate are anything but routine. The subjects consist of pedophiles, rapists and child molesters, abusive fathers, victimized wives, pregnant daughters, young prostitutes, underage pickpockets, to mention just a few.
How do these male and female cops balance their private lives with the harsh realities they confront day after day? A certain approach of emotional detachment, accompanied by a healthy dosage of humor, are required to carry out the challenging, often draining work. And, indeed, as writer and director Maiwenn shows commendable skills in blending drama, melodrama, comedy, and even action.
Maiwenn plays Melissa, a photographer assigned by the Ministry of Interior Affairs to document the unit’s work. The squad includes Nadine (Karin Viard), who’s in the process of a nasty divorce. The handsome Mathieu (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is smitten by his married partner, Chrys (Karole Rocher), who’s pregnant.
The unit’s head is Balloo (Frederic Pierrot), who allows Fred (Joeystarr), the most vocal and emotional worker, to use legit and illegit means in his travail. Fred is the closest the narrative has to a protagonist and moral center: He is the group’s hypersensitive wild card.
The text is by nature episodic and fractured: There are at least two dozen case studies, some more fully developed and more touching than others. There is a wonderfully spontaneous moment, when the entire team bursts out laughing after encountering a teenage girl who values her phone more than her honor or dignity.
One of the most touching moment occurs when Fred can’t find a shelter for an alien-immigrant mother and her young boy, which forces him to separate them, thus throwing the child into hysterical tantrum.
The picture moves swiftly from one case to another and from one and worker to another, often too abruptly. Nonetheless, the semi-documentary style helps in grounding the varied episodes in a recognizable reality.
“Polisse” unfolds as a precise group portrait, punctuated by high and low emotional points, all shown entirely from the inside. As expected, the employees are harsh, their language rough (replete with four-letter words), and the contents painfully candid.
Maiwen doesn’t neglect the workers’ personal lives. The members spend so much time together that they actually constitute an extended family. They often socialize beyond their working schedules, going out drinking and dancing, arguing about the ethical and moral (or lack of) involved in their work. Moreover, some of the members inevitably develop personal crushes on their peers and engage in illicit affairs, which endanger their domestic lives.
In moments, the fragmented, multi-layered tale feels like a pilot for a potent TV series. Ambitious, multi-nuanced, complex, and replete of ambiguities of various kinds–personal, moral, and professional–“Polisse” is a movie that always informs and occasionally even provokes. It’s too bad that the director is so close to her material and to her actors to the point of making an overly stuffed, self-indulgent film, which doesn’t always distinguish between the significant and the less significant episodes.
As an adolescent, Maiwenn appeared in the movie “The Fifth Element,” directed by Luc Besson, with whom she had a child.
Karin Viard, Joeystarr, Marina Fois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Maiwenn, Karole Rocher, Emmanuelle Bercot, Frederic Pierrot, Arnaud Henriet, Naidra Ayadi, Jeremie Elkhaim, Ricardo Scamarcio, Sandrine Kiberlain.
A Mars Distribution release of a Les Productions du Tresor presentation of a Les Productions du Tresor, Arte France Cinema, Mars Films, Chaocorp, Shortcom production, in association with Canal Plus, CineCinema, Arte, with participation of Manon, Wild Bunch.
Produced by Alain Attal.
Directed by Maiwenn.
Screenplay, Maiwenn, Emmanuelle Bercot.
Camera, Pierre Aim; editors, Laure Gardette, Yann Dedet; music, Stephen Warbeck; production designer, Nicolas de Boiscuille; costume designer, Marite Coutard; sound, Nicolas Provost, Sandy Notarianni, Rym Debbarh-Mounir, Emmanuel Croset
Running time: 127 Minutes