Polisse – Film Review

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Finally arriving on our shores is one of last year’s festival favourites, and indeed winner of the 2011 Cannes Jury Prize: Polisse. Directed by celebrated French actress Maïwenn, and inspired by a television documentary, the film follows the Parisian Child Protection Unit  as the staff go about their (frequently harrowing) daily business and inevitably burn off steam during their downtime.

Reportedly culled from 150 hours worth of handheld camera footage down to its runtime of 2, the film has a shaky-cam immediacy that  lends the events a diagetic, documentary-style believability, giving the subject matter a neccesary grimy and often unpleasant edge.

There isn’t really a defined, linear plot as such: choosing to hop between various different cops and the cases they pursue – ranging from the seemingly innoccuous to the horrific and perverted, these episodes can be affecting for both the audience and the protagonists.  Subsequently, a healthy dose of gallows humour permeates the Unit, largely born of frustration.  In one such case, a young girl reports giving oral sex to a group of boys in order to reclaim her cellphone and all the cops can do is giggle like adolescents. At other times, the harrowing events can take their toll on the adults: most notably in one scene involving a miscarried baby from a raped teenager, and another when a homeless immigrant mother pleads with the authorities to take away the son she can no longer provide for.

Polisse has already been very positively received in other countries, and it’s easy to see why – the grim subject matter is hard to translate to screen in a sympathetic light, and the freewheeling attachment to the Unit’s lives and loves help the audience to sympathise with their plight.  When they go en masse to a disco to burn off some steam and literally let their hair down, we are all the more grateful for it.

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Inevitably however,  seeing these characters’ lives unfolding before us also means that a lot of energy and time is given to nursing their own neuroses and examining how messed up their personal lives are.  Genuine police members may suffer this sort of emotional trauma on a regular basis, but in the context here it only serves to drag down the momentum of the film and take us into some decidedly soapy waters: supplanting the drama of earlier scenes with distracting and sluggish moments of melodrama and contrived personal revelations. Indeed, the final scene is abrupt to the extent of infatilism and instantly damages a lot of the good work that had come before.

Polisse’s marketing has it described as “a whole season of The Wire.” With the multitudes of plot elements at play, it’s easy to agree.  Freewheeling and rambling may be to the director’s taste, but one suspects that losing half an hour and tightening up editing could have made the film far more powerful and poignant. As it stands, the film has flashes of brilliance, you just may struggle to remember them amidst a lot of unfocussed shouting.

 

3/5

 

 

This review was originally written for Lost in The Multiplex

 

 

 

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