[Review] – Polisse

5 Jun

Title: Polisse
Year: 2012
Director: Maïwenn
Writers: Maïwenn and Emmanuelle Bercot
Starring: Karin Viard, Joeystarr, Marina Foïs, Maïwenn
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 127 min
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Metacritic: 77

Polisse won the Prix du Jury at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and then it was nominated for 13 César Awards, the French equivalent to the Oscars, where it won two of those. It follows the lives of the men and women who make up the Child Protection Unit of the Paris police department. And let me just tell you it’s an absolutely amazing film. How it examines the daily grind of these characters, the many things they see at work, and how they interact with their colleagues, is just exceptionally developed. The script, co-written by director Maïwenn, who used real child investigation cases to structure it is brilliant in the realism of it all, and how it showcases the emotional toll this job, as well as their personal lives, have on them.

It’s just awesome how they use this really talented ensemble of actors to create this team and how they all really give some terrific performances, and the film never once shies away from showing the brutal truths of the world these guys live in, and as such we get a seriously powerful procedural film, one that’s just thoroughly compelling and gripping all the way, even as the film stretches a bit past the two-hour mark. I was just really impressed, by the immediacy felt in every frame, by the ensemble, by how much you got yourself involved in the action.

The film has this realistic quality, a fly-on-the-wall sort of thing that feels like you’re watching a documentary, something that’s actually happening and that you’ve been granted total access to. That actually has a lot to do with Maïwenn herself, as the writer-director also stars in the film, and she’s the fly on the wall through which we’re seeing all of this unfold. Her character, you see, is Melissa, this wealthy photographer who has enough connections to get her into this unit of the Paris police department; she’s just there never calling too much attention to herself, just letting it all unfold for her to capture it all as it really is, the interrogations, the true nature of these people, everything.

Yes, I know Polisse is a fictional film and not really a documentation of real events, but Maïwenn spent some time with a real child protection unit, and the way she shapes her film makes that line really blurry, making it seem much more like you’re just watching stuff happen as it would in reality. That’s because Maïwenn doesn’t really apply that much of any kind of conventional structure, it just follows this unit through many investigations of these cases that can get you really infuriated, showing you cases, inspired by real ones, that tell horrible stories of child neglect and sexual abuse. We are showed how they work, how they interrogate the people responsible for these actions, and how they are sometimes given the task to finding new homes for children. And it does so in a very straightforward way, just giving us the facts, not really going into a mushy territory and, by doing so, it manages to say a lot about French society, and of human nature as a whole.

We also get a nice look at the personal lives of these people, how after going to work in such good moods, even when they must face some pretty horrible stuff, they must then leave work and deal with their own lives, and considering they are such close friends, you can bet that a romance or two will come out of that group. To be honest, these are the bits that kind of didn’t do it for me and prevented me to really love the film, I mean they were really nicely told, but it took a bit from the aesthetic of the whole film, and distracted from the cases, even though these scenes were arguably there to shine a light on the people so that we could understand them better while they worked on the cases, but still.

We do see these characters be actual humans when they are at work, instead of just being the typical police, and I think those bits did more towards crafting three-dimensional characters than the bits of their personal lives outside the station. For example, there’s a scene in which a teenage girl is asked why she gave oral sex to a group of boys, and she replies that she did it because they took her cellphone, and the woman questioning her starts laughing at her. They do so not because they are insensitive, but because they are shocked, and much like we are intrigued as an audience to find out about these cases, they are too, and can’t help but laugh when something they’ve never heard of before comes before them.

So Polisse works because it gets you to care, much like the people in the film do; when they get mad the bureaucracy of it all you get mad too, when a case is too much for them to handle you may find yourself fighting back tears of your own. Because there are quite a lot of stories that are quite tough to watch unravel here,  and that bluntness with which the film tells these stories is really something, there’s an energy to them that speaks to you a great deal. Plus, there’s no missing how much a distinction between men and women this film makes, both in the cases it shows us and in the personal relationships within the task force, and that says a lot, too.

Polisse does a lot of good things. It’s raw and it’s personal and it allows itself to be funny, even if by doing so it’s not necessarily making its main characters look good. And it has a great ensemble telling harsh stories the right way, without flinching. And about two hours into it, I was so ready to give it an A-, but then the last couple of scenes came around and I felt deflated. The movie had been so honest, and then those final scenes just felt quite false, to be honest, too damn melodramatic for my taste, and I was just bugged by that. Still, there’s no denying that this film gets a good look at the complexities that living this life comes with, and at the aspect of society these people must cope with looking at every day.

Grade: B+

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