Polisse – Movie Review

Great camera work and postproduction combined with the genuine grit of police work make this a film to see.

Following up her Best first film Cesar nominations for “Pardonnez-moi,” emerging director Maïwenn has unleashed a potboiler of the cop drama. The winner of the Jury Prize at 2011 Cannes (Nominated for the Palme d’Or); “Polisse” takes the viewer behind the scenes into one of the most taboo sectors of law enforcement.

The Child Protection Unit takes on the most heart wrenching cases perpetrated on the streets of the developed world. These are criminal acts perpetrated on victims who have no power and no representation. In many cases, the victims are barely able to describe the hurt they have suffered. At some point, the officers themselves become the victims.

Films dealing with such explosive material must walk the finest of lines. The screenplay has to go deep inside the bureaucracy to penetrate the most private moments of the characters while not steeping over the line into exploitation. The key to this is a deep understanding of the cops, the perpetrators and the victims and transcribing this complex story onto the screen.

Director/writer Maïwenn and co-writer Emmanuelle Bercot have succeeded in doing that. The people are drawn in full three-dimensional realism, warts and all. There is just enough humor to show the characters on the verge of mental breakdown. At some point, the choice is between laughter and insanity. In the lunchrooms and offices of the CPU, everybody needs a break.

The problem with law enforcement is that solving one crime does not prevent the next. The apparent futility of the work is countered by the support and camaraderie of the officers themselves. In the final analysis, they are the law enforcement that makes the police work happen. Occasionally, someone slips through the safety net.

Two-time Cesar winner Karin Viard (eight nominations) plays Nadine, one of the senior police officers in the unit. The story is told in the context of a reporter, Melissa (Director/writer Maïwenn) covering the work of the unit. The film contrasts her alienation and lack of connection with the unit with the tight knit support that the other members share. She is able to be the outsider who does what the other members dare not do; she enters into an affair with one of the officers, Fred (Joey Starr). The men have learned, the hard way, to avoid putting their emotions on the line in the course of their daily routine. The potential consequences are too great.

In spite of this Matthieu (Nicolas Duvauchelle) comes too close with his married police partner Chrys (Karole Rocher). This is not an equal relationship; the woman has much more to lose than the man. The CPU has a higher percentage of females officers than most other units do, but the women within the unit still have more to prove than their male counterparts.

This is a film directed and written by women, and, as opposed to the comparable TV series Hill Street Blues,” this is a film from the perspective of women forced to over-perform in a high stress world dominated by males and male ideologies.

“Polisse” does not quail from attacking the hard questions about child abuse. In many cases, the abusers are children themselves. They, too, probably were or are currently being abused. There is not a clear-cut enemy that can be shackled and led away. The real evil lurks deep within a society that has somehow lost respect for itself. The very hardest part comes when circumstances cause those responsible for the enforcement to lose respect for them.

One of the minefields taking its toll on CPU officers is the lack of respect shown to the unit by the other more visible and overtly dangerous departments such as homicide and drugs. In spite of common sense, the officers in these units look down on the CPU unit, calling them the “Baby Unit.” This terrible short sightedness is one of the accurate and invaluable aspects of this film’s social commentary.

Adult criminals start as child criminals or as children growing up in abusive families. The only way to reduce the problem is to intervene when the victims, and perpetrators, are young. This is happening in few police departments in the USA. There is vastly better publicity to be had from jailing a murderer than from stopping a child from becoming a murderer.

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Directed by: Maïwenn
Written by: Maïwenn and Emmanuelle Bercot
Starring: Karin Viard, Joey Starr and Marina Foïs
Release Date: May 18, 2012
MPAA: Not Rated
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Country: France
Language: French / Italian / Romanian / Arabic