Film Review – Polisse
The new film Polisse is not a masterpiece, but the dedication to this story from the director and screenwriter, Maïwenn, makes for an interesting look at the work of the CPU (Child Protective Unit). Maïwenn places us right in the middle of these cops’ lives, and is very quick to keep everything moving. She does this by making jump cuts around a scene and moving quickly into new scenes. This makes for a confusing start, and there were moments that I had to backtrack in my mind to figure out where we were and who we were with. As the film moves on, though, things start to fall into place, and we slowly pick up enough to figure out where these police officers are in their careers and personal lives.
The character arcs keep the film cohesive as a narrative, but the film’s focus is to showcase the different kind of cases that CPU goes through, including how it responds to illegal immigrants using their children as thieves and to wealthy pedophiles who think they can beat the system. We move from case to case; some sequences last up to twenty minutes investigating a missing child, or we could get a quick two-minute interview with a suspect. These quick movements from case to case allow us to see the very different kind of work that these people do, how fast paced their lives are, and the minutia of the details they have to go over.
The film also highlights how these characters are perceived within the police force on a whole, including different departments and the higher-ups. There is no overarching plot to these events. The one change to the world is the introduction of Melissa (played by Maïwenn), a photographer who is brought in by the Justice Minister to take pictures of police officers in action. Maïwenn keeps her character mainly as a background figure. She is there more to give us a sense of another outsider (besides the audience) to this world. This all goes into the real sense of what the cops’ lives are like. They have relationship issues, in part because of the ugliness of what they see, how they get emotionally involved in cases, and how that can start to take its toll—or, in some cases, empower them to do more.
The personal lives of the characters, though, are not as well presented as the investigations—especially Melissa developing feelings for one of the officers. It doesn’t hurt the film for the most part, but Melissa’s relationship has no basis in reality except in the need to have the highbrow photographer sleep with a regular police officer. It feels like a device that is supposed to be complementary to other themes, but is instead distracting. The other personal issues are not in and of themselves bad. Some do serve as ways of showing what the job is doing to the cops outside of the office; yet, when there are heavy moments that deal with their problems (one officer deals with an eating disorder; another is getting a divorce, etc.), they have little weight in the story and do not feel earned or natural. Again, this doesn’t take up much time, but when these moments happen, the film becomes stagnant.
As I said, the casework is where the film does its best work. While thorough in its covering of the different cases, this ends up becoming a double-edged sword. The good side is that we see how these cases cause the officers to react differently, sometimes with amusement or sometimes getting so angry they want to hit someone. There is a sense of the day-to-day work flow and what they do to get the job done and how they deal on an emotional level with the ugliness they see. The bad side is that because we move around from case to case, it becomes hard to get invested in these events, despite the fact that these are horrible things happening to children. Some narratives feel unfinished, or more details would be helpful to explain the emotions or actions of the officers.
The work that these men and women do and the crap they have to deal with is very visceral. We see the pressure of this work, yet, in the end, Polisse doesn’t leave us in any way more involved in what they do. We see it go by and we know that the job is important and that there is much that they have to put up with, both on the job and at home. However, truly feeling for it all is harder to do. Still, Maïwenn’s direction is spot-on in keeping the action going and her dedication is clear. For those factors alone, this film is worth a view.
Final Grade: B