Movie Review: 'Polisse' is an unflinching cop drama
Thursday, May 17, 2012
"Polisse" feels like the two-hour pilot for the kind of meaty cop drama that could only exist on cable television, one you'd want to program into your DVR to watch all season long.
The subject matter is inherently repulsive — crimes against children — yet the film itself, which won the jury prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, is irresistibly watchable, full of complicated characters on both sides of these investigations.
Director and co-writer Maiwenn finds the humanity within some abhorrent figures, as well as much-needed comic relief and absurdity within some repulsive situations. A few of the revelations here are so startling, you'll be shocked to finding yourself joining in and laughing at the gallows humor along with these hardened detectives.
Maiwenn also inserts herself in the action as part of the ensemble cast — in self-glorifying fashion, to be honest — as the photographer assigned to follow the police officers of Paris' Child Protection Unit and our guide through this dark and sometimes darkly humorous world. In real life, she embedded herself with these kinds of detectives and (with co-writer Emmanuelle Bercot, who has a supporting role) crafted several interwoven tales based on actual cases she saw.
What's impressive is not only her ability to juggle a large group of talented actors and give everyone a chance to shine — including Karin Viard, Marina Fois and French rapper JoeyStarr — but also her restraint. She judges no one, neither the suspects nor the people investigating them. Everyone makes mistakes — everyone is believably flawed. And because "Polisse" also follows the officers after hours, it's easy to see why so many of them are so screwed up: Psychologically, they take their work home with them, and their work is depressingly frustrating.
There are some shocking moments, to be sure, and plenty of stress-fueled blow-ups but also scenes of joyous, drunken camaraderie and heartbreaking tenderness. Maiwenn's naturalistic style serves to amplify all these emotions. JoeyStarr in particular is vividly at the center of both ends of the spectrum: His character, the volatile but mesmerizing Fred, can be harsh and fly off the handle at his co-workers but he also reveals a disarming sensitive side when it comes time to soothe a hysterical young boy.
The latter is one of many scenes that are especially difficult to watch as a parent. Of course, the crimes mentioned here would seem horrific to anyone with a pulse, but it's all the more disturbing on a visceral level when you've had a child of your own.
The misspelling of the title is intentional, Maiwenn has said, as if a confused kid had written it. But the film itself quite obviously came from a level-headed adult, one with great command of tone. Sure, you've seen this sort of material before — comparisons to HBO's "The Wire" are frequent and obvious — but when it's done right, as it is here, it's gripping.
"Polisse," a Sundance Selects release, is not rated but contains language, violence, smoking, graphic dialogue and disturbing situations involving children. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 127 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.