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Polisse | The Clapper Bored


Words by Jeff Galasso.

French actor/writer/director Maïwenn’s third feature film Polisse won the Cannes Film Fesitval’s Jury Prize in 2011 and will finally see its UK release in June.  Based on actual stories from first-hand accounts collected by Maïwenn from Paris’ Child Protection Unit, the film presents a melodramatic view of the police officers who investigate the various crimes committed against minors in the French capital.

Polisse focuses on the roles of the CPU day team and their personal lives, as they struggle to balance the harsh realities of their chosen profession.  The close-knit collection of protagonists are each flawed in their own way, but once it becomes clear that the focal point will be on their interpersonal relationships, the film loses its poignancy.  Marital strife, eating disorders, pregnancy and an altogether unnecessary romantic sub-plot diminish the impact of the stories behind the children the CPU aims to protect.  With a team of eight central characters, most of whom are saddled with their own dramatic conflicts, Polisse is a chaotic mess that would be better suited as the made-for-television mini-series it already resembles.  Constantly swapping between different cases and each officer’s problem, no single storyline is given a chance to build a sense of tension and truly draw the viewer into their world.  It entertains well enough, but does so without ever being engaging.

The very subject matter the plot of Polisse is steeped in makes for uncomfortable viewing, even with the occasional, oddly comedic perspective sprinkled across the two hours.  So the idea of romance taking centre-stage is more than a little off-putting.  Of course, that isn’t to say that these officers cannot be portrayed as having lives outside of work.  It’s the circumstances under which this particular romance plays out that leaves a sour taste.  The female object of affection is none other than writer/director Maïwenn herself.  As Melissa, a photographer embedded within the CPU for future book purposes (mimicking her own time spent researching this project), her character is the epitome of needless vanity.  Offering little from a plot-perspective and less from a performance stand-point, Melissa is there merely to fuel a pointless love-story and absorb screen time.  Generally speaking, this would be a shameless display, but given that she is deflecting attention away from those presented as fighting the good fight against child abuse and exploitation, it is no less than appalling.  The first step towards vastly improving Polisse’s narrative would be to eliminate her character altogether.

The rest of the cast, inclusive of Karin Viard’s Nadine in the midst of a mid-life crisis and Joey Starr’s emotionally involved Fred, manage well enough with the material they’re given.  With so many stories fighting for screen time and prominence, Polisse often comes across as a soap opera shot on a hand-held camera that just happens to be about people in an exceptionally stressful job.  In truth, the same characters, the same conflicts and the same outcomes could have been depicted using any other high-stress workplace as its setting.  The arrests and incidents re-enacted onscreen are left feeling incidental to the plot rather than pivotal.  As such, the second step towards improving Polisse’s narrative would be to treat the job these CPU officers do as more than window dressing to their screwed up personal lives.

Judging on premise alone, Polisse could have been a brave, powerful film.  As it is, the film is watchable enough and isn’t entirely lacking in entertainment value, but fraught by director Maïwenn’s ego and an unfocused screenplay, it loses sight of exactly what or whose story it is attempting to tell.  Unevenly structured and not particularly well-framed, in many ways Polisse, is better suited for evening television than art-house cinema screens.  It can only be hoped that before Maïwenn helms her next film, someone explains the French equivalent of modesty to her.

Title: Polisse
Director: Maïwenn
Starring: Maïwenn, Joeystarr, Karin Viard, Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle and Riccardo Scamarcio
Running Time: 127 minutes
Certificate : 15

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