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Polisse (Maïwenn, 2011)


French director and actress Maïwenn takes a look at the trials and tribulations of the officers of a Parisian Child Protective Unit in the ensemble drama Polisse. The sensitive nature of the subject matter suggests that this will be bleak material, but Maïwenn focuses as much on the personal lives of the police officers that serve as her main characters as on the cases that challenge them. This is somewhat problematic, as while they make for tough viewing at times, the sordid stories of abuse are by far the most interesting things in this drama. Whenever Polisse makes showing us that the officers have many of the same problems as the rest of us its agenda, it falters. The problem is twofold. These melodramatic subplots are less interesting than the procedural detail that we glean from watching the officers at work and they are often too exaggerated to feel especially impactful. This is probably most egregious in a left-field, last-minute suicide, which is presumably intended to close the film with a shock, but instead undermines the sense that the film as a whole is providing observational truth.


This isn’t to imply that Polisse is terribly misguided. As many directors who also act do, Maïwenn draws good performances from her cast (generous, perhaps to a fault, she probably delivers the worst acting in the film), getting especially strong turns from what one must assume are non-professionals. Several high-tension scenes, such as one in which a Muslim police officer faces off against a man who refuses to talk to her due to her gender, generate real energy as a result. Still, a more tightly focused film undoubtedly would have had greater impact. Midway through, when the group is shown unwinding at a club, it demonstrates their camaraderie in spite of their challenges, I suppose, but it also stops the film dead in its tracks.


The structure of Polisse ensures that we get closure for only a few cases of that are presented and the lack of a single lead character enables the script to suggest broader statements about human behavior. At times, it seems that the adulterous affairs that the police officers engage in are some sort of counterpoint to the transgressions that they investigate by day, but little comes from this line of thinking. Indeed, the underdeveloped nature of the overall film lends a sense of pointlessness over the whole ordeal after a while, which is unfortunate, because there is something respectful about the director’s willingness to take on such material without maximizing its exploitative qualities. Ultimately, engaging as it might be from scene to scene, Polisse fails to make a convincing statement about the toll that a life spent investigating depravity takes.



Jeremy Heilman