Having won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2011, director Maïwenn’s Polisse was taken seriously at Cannes and portrays a difficult subject and a main topic of concern for society. Actor and director Maïwenn co-wrote her latest film with Emmanuelle Berot about police officers working in the Child Protection Unit in Paris.
The tight knit CPU deal with crime, violence, neglect and sexual assault perpetrated against children. Filmed in a mostly pseudo-documentary style, with realistic rapid fire exchanges between people who have worked together for many years, the film explores personal dynamics along with the impact this work has on the private lives of the various officers. Reading the French through subtitles, one knows that there are some things lost in translation but the essence of the film is intact even if one is a non-French speaker.
The subject matter of Polisse is naturally confronting with officers having to feign calm when an adult admits either openly or attempts to hide their criminal abuse of family members or those entrusted into their care.
Not all the children are shown to be victims however, with some teenagers taking issue with the CPU curtailing their sexual activities rather than being thankful of the protection the law is trying to extend to them.
There are moments of trench humour which help to reduce the seriousness of the topic, with one scene in particular being incredibly funny. Also, especially through Joey Starr’s character Fred, the audience experiences how most people can never become totally immune to the urge to protect children.
Maïwenn herself is a character in the film called Melissa, a photographer hired by the Ministry of the Interior to follow the CPU officers in their activities. Her self-imposed marginalised figure becomes a fly in the ointment of the film, with a love story crowbarred into the script along with Melissa’s undefined relationship with the father of her twin daughters. With so many interesting stories derived from the ensemble cast and fine performances from Karin Viard, Marina Foïs, Starr and Frédéric Pierrot to name just a few, the presence of Maïwenn in her own film comes across as self-indulgent.
Polisse also has a running time of 127 minutes which reflects a need for a tighter cut of some overly long and superfluous scenes. Had Maïwenn omitted her own scenes, Polisse could have had even more of an impact as an important piece of social cinema.