Wednesday 20 June 2012
(Maïwenn, 2011) Following the daily operations of the Child Protection Unit (CPU) in Belleville, Paris over a few months, Maïwenn's Polisse is an intense, arresting piece of storytelling that feels far more like the extra-long pilot to a hard-hitting Cop tv show than it does a movie. These policemen and women are exposed to an endless parade of banal human evil and suffering: urbane middle class fathers who rape their daughters but see it as making love, teenage girls whom arrange for their friends to be raped by boys, junkie mothers who kidnap their children from nurseries, Romanian child pickpocket rings, women who have to give up their sons because they have no home or money, teachers who molest students, and on, and on. Most of the cases are horrific, a couple are comic, but all take their toll on the officers. These people are bruised and traumatised though they deal with it as best they can. We see snatches of their difficult home lives; broken marriages, alcoholism, eating disorders. Maïwenn films it all documentary-style, with roving handheld cameras and naturalistic performances and dialogue. The flights of visual poetry are kept to a minimum and even the relationships and personal lives of the cops are only glancingly revealed, save for the relationship between driven, hot-headed cop Fred (Joey Starr) and a photographer documenting the units work (played by the Director herself). That is one of the few story elements - alongside a shock ending - that feels contrived, not taken from the actual lives of the real Parisian CPU. The rest is scrupulously authentic in feel and presentation. The performances are generally strong, with a few melodramatic showdowns perhaps feeling more like improv exercises that have gone too far than the majority of the minor-key, casual conversations we witness. But there is much to like here; the episodic, floating structure makes it continually involving, and there are big laughs, suspense and genuinely moving sequences in this film, which bears it's social realism as lightly as a film with such dark content ever could. Indeed, perhaps the most effecting element is one of the most generic: the relationship between a male-female partnership who plainly love one another but cannot do anything about it, since she is married and pregnant. This is all obvious without being made explicit until a single late instant, and even that is later forgotten. People move on here, as in life.