Think of the children – Polisse review

Polisse  - Starring JoeystarrMarina Foïs, and Maïwenn. Directed by Maïwenn. Rated MA. Originally published June 11, 2012. By Simon Miraudo.

Polisse arrives in Australian cinemas June 28, 2012.

Polisse is a fantastically compelling and complex portrait of the men and women who devote their days to the safety of children, and who must come to accept that the cycle of abuse and hardship rarely ends at their intervention. Writer-director Maïwenn masterfully grasps countless plot strands as if they were attached to helium balloons, releasing one by one carefully and ensuring none pop prematurely (it was co-scripted by Emmanuell Bercot). She stars as Mélissa, a photo-journalist embedded with the members of France’s Child Protection Unit. We flit in and out of their personal lives, also witnessing the seemingly infinite – and increasingly depressing – cases that reach their desks. Not all of them are solved by the picture’s end, nor do we ever get conclusive resolutions to each character’s arc. When the movie finally reaches its climax, with numerous CPU members releasing their pressure valve in spectacular fashion, we understand these people all too well.

The cast is vast, and vastly talented. Rapper Joeystarr (another mononymous actor) plays the furious Fred; a father and husband who can barely keep himself from killing the parade of molesters he deals with on a regular basis. Marina Foïs and Karin Viard star as partners Iris and Nadine respectively; the former is an anorexic with an increasingly tenuous grip on her sanity amidst the daily horror, and the latter is a divorcee who can’t admit to her colleague that she’s still madly in love with her cheating ex-husband. Frédéric Pierrot is group captain Gerard Balloo, who is losing the respect of his team thanks to some failed confrontations with his own boss.

There are numerous others, including the superb supporting actors that intermittently appear as accused husbands and negligent mothers. The child performers defy hyperbole, and not just because they are asked to relate and convey varying degrees of exploitation. Consider the young actress who tells her mom that daddy “loves me too much,” or the boy who feels sad for his inappropriate gym teacher, or the girl who gives birth and then must farewell the fetus. We know this is fiction, but at times the line becomes blurred and these naturalistic performances convince us that this is actually a documentary. Perhaps acknowledging the reality of these scenarios is really the only responsible thing one can do.

The rapes and molestations are never glimpsed; we instead only hear the details in clinical police reports. Still, this is not detached filmmaking. Throughout the first half of the movie, Maïwenn’s photog saying nothing and standing back from the action, snapping away at crying kids being torn from their parents. She’s chastised for seeking “gritty and miserabilist” imagery, as well as for wearing fake eye-glasses (yet another lens to distance herself behind). You could criticise Mélissa for being dispassionate, but not Maïwenn.

As she is further integrated into the CPU gang, we see the accumulative toll these crimes take on their psyches. In one particularly distressing case, the cops tell the wife of a paedophile, “We don’t judge; we don’t care.” No matter how hard they all work to make it seem so, that last part isn’t true. Everyone tries to act removed and treat each case as isolated, despite the fact they’re each fuelled by their job, as well as their compassion, fury, and ego.

It’s easy to compare with Law and Order: SVUthanks to the chilling subject matter. However, as established, Polisse never exploits. The best and closest comparison I can think of in terms of scope and thematic resonance is The WireIn that show, creator David Simon astutely depicted the cyclical nature of corruption in all facets of society, top to bottom. Maïwenn’s film is never that grandiose, but, fleetingly, it reaches similar heights of greatness.

4.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Polisse arrives in Australian cinemas June 28, 2012.

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