Posted September 25, 2012 by Jonathan McCalmont in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

Polisse


Named after for an endearingly childish misspelling of the word ‘police’

Named after for an endearingly childish misspelling of the word
‘police’
, Maiwenn’s third film Polisse follows a group of Parisian
child protection cops as they struggle to maintain both their sanities and
their personal relationships whilst investigation horrific cases of child
abuse.

Despite having won a number of
prestigious cinematic awards including the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes film
festival, Polisse looks very much like a television series. Indeed, anyone
familiar with either Spiral or Braquo will feel instantly at home in
this gritty world of cigarettes, Gallic stubble and questionable romantic
decision-making. Though somewhat depressing given the film’s high profile,
Polisse’s real problems lie not in tired visuals but in the utterly misguided attempt
to condense an entire TV season’s worth of material into a single two-hour
film.

Series like The Bridge and The Wire
have shown that it is possible to tell a compelling story using a cast of
complex characters interacting across dozens of different cases and plotlines.
Unfortunately, while these gritty police procedurals traditionally have a dozen
episodes in which to unpack characters, tell stories and explore ideas, Polisse
attempts to cover the same amount of ground in only two hours. Somewhat unsurprisingly,
this results in a chaotic warren of truncated character arcs and clunky exposition
through which the film attempts to convey not only the psychological forces
acting on the police officers but also the wider social and institutional
issues that make their lives just that little bit harder.

The most obvious casualties of the
film’s condensed approach to storytelling are the scenes in which, confronted
by a particularly nasty case of child molestation, the characters reach their
wits end and release months of bottled-up anger and frustration. Beautifully
acted and evocatively shot, these sequences all suffer from the fact that not a
single emotional climax feels in any way merited by the events leading up to
it. One particularly noteworthy example of this phenomenon is the moment when the
inwardly sensitive but outwardly nonchalant Nadine (Karin Viard) vents her spleen at her outwardly arrogant but
inwardly self-loathing partner Iris (Marina
Fois
). As astonishing as this scene may be on a purely visceral level, it
is impossible not to feel a pang of regret over how powerful it could have been
if only the women’s relationship had been allowed enough space in which to
develop. Why did Iris feel the
urge to boss Nadine around? Why did Nadine allow Iris to tell her what to do?
What happened to make this relationship come to such an explosive end? Answers
are what provide dramatic power… not mere acting talent. Lurching from one
emotional climax to another with very little in the way of dramatic foreplay,
Polisse feels less like a serious drama than an acting master class where a group
of pompous actors compete with each other to see who can shout the loudest and
smash the most computer monitors.

Maiwenn’s handling of the narrative
aspects of the film is particularly frustrating as the film contains some
moments of astonishing human weakness. According to interviews, Maiwenn decided
to make the film after seeing a documentary about child protection units. Drawing
on her showbiz contacts, the director embedded herself in a working police unit
and recreated everything she saw on set with actors. In other words, when a
stressed single mother explains that one of her sons is better behaved than the
other because she jerks him off every night, chances are that someone actually
said that to a police officer in front of this film’s director. Even more astonishing is the fact that
the woman’s naïve belief that this type of behaviour is a normal part of
parenting is utterly convincing and disarmingly human. Shot in a documentary
style and performed by an absolutely fearless cast of adult and child actors,
these little vignettes crackle with the kind of uncomfortable energy that you
only get when an unpleasant truth is well and truly pinned down. Tainted with sadness
as well as weakness, these scenes are strongly reminiscent of the blending of
documentary and drama that characterised the early works of Maurice Pialat including L’Enfance Nue, La Gueule Grande Ouverte and the magnificent Nous Ne Vieillirons Pas Ensemble.

Maiwenn’s Polisse shows that while
it is possible to make a film about police investigating child abuse that feels
neither manipulative nor sensationalist, it is deeply regrettable that the film’s
interview sections are shackled to such a large and over-ambitious narrative.
With fewer characters and more focus, this could have been a very good film rather
than one that is merely interesting.


Jonathan McCalmont