Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 20, 2011 11:02 pm 
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Child abuse, Paris north

A northern Paris police "child protection" squad is the subject Polisse (a French child’s intuitive spelling of “Police”), a naturalistic, improvisational third film from the actress-director Maïwenn. This Jury Prize winner at Cannes may to some extent -- but not entirely -- make up in its realism and varied content what it lacks in organization. The topics/incidents range broadly, from physical and sexual abuse in families to the plight of homeless African immigrants to a schoolteacher’s pedophilia to a police sting in a mall that leads to a gunshot wound. Certainly some of the material brought up is shocking in nature, and this may explain some of the local interest. But child sexual abuse has been more searchingly and thoroughly dealt with in other films, such as the Canadian The Boys of St. VIncent. The emphasis is not so much on the kids as on the interactions among and psychological impact upon the police staff members, who all too frequently give in to freakouts at home and on the job. This Canal+ production has some of the marks of made-for-TV material, despite its good reception at Cannes and apparently decent box office in French theaters. The film, thought it amply shows its actor/director's ability to draw lively performances from her cast, tries to do too much and thereby lacks depth in exploring any particular characters or incidents. Maïwenn maintains a gritty intensity throughout, but when it was over I felt like someone at a smorgasbord who’d sampled too many mouthfuls of a lot of different spicy dishes.

The cast includes Karin Viard, Joeystarr, Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Maïwenn, Karole Rocher, Emmanuelle Bercot, Frederic Pierrot, Arnaud Henriet, Naidra Ayadi, Jeremie Elkhaim, Ricardo Scamarcio, Sandrine Kiberlain. Joeystarr, an Afro-look rapper with his own real life history of run-ins with the law, dominates as Fred, a macho unit member whose own relations with his own small daughter seem overly erotic and who is given to violent outbursts against suspected offenders. Maïwenn herself plays the relatively uninteresting role of a photographer newly assigned to do a series on the program who soon becomes romantically involved with Fred. As Matthieu, the interesting but here underused actor Nicolas Duvauchelle plays a member of the squad who becomes overly attracted to his married police partner Chrys (Karole Rocher) and is wounded in the hastily presented mall sting sequence, allowing for a hospital scene.

In all the detail of constant randomly-arranged incidents the director, who co-scripted with cast member Emannuelle Bercot, seems forced to pump up some action to greater extremes to have a few highlights. Reviewing at Cannes, Boyd van Hoelj of Variety felt the film despite its faults “has enough highlights to arrest savvy arthouse patrons worldwide," but I was left disappointed by the lack of depth and focus. Von Hoelj himself notes that the point of view of the child victims is rarely explored here, and most of the action takes place on police department premises. This focus on adults goes against the misleading local publicity for the film, which at least appears to center on the children. The colorful Paris posters and Colonne Morris publicity for Polisse (see above) are almost in their way more exotic and intriguing than the film itself, which wastes a lot of realistic acting on badly organized and in some cases hasty assemblages of scenes.

Maïwenn's full name is Maïwenn Le Besco. She is the sister of Isild Le Besco. At 16 she had a child by Luc Besson.

Polisse opened in Paris October 19, 2011.


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