Friday, June 29, 2012

DVD Review: Polisse

Directed by: Maïwenn.
Written by: Maïwenn & Emmanuelle Bercot.
Starring: Karin Viard (Nadine), Joey Starr (Fred), Marina Foïs (Iris), Nicolas Duvauchelle (Mathieu), Maïwenn (Melissa), Karole Rocher (Chrys), Emmanuelle Bercot (Sue Ellen), Frédéric Pierrot (Baloo), Arnaud Henriet (Bamako), Naidra Ayadi (Nora), Jérémie Elkaïm (Gabriel), Riccardo Scamarcio (Francesco).

I have heard more than one critic compare Polisse to a whole season of Law and Order: Special Victim`s Unit compressed into just over 2 hours. And many of those critics have used that as a criticism of the movie – that there are some many cases pressed into the running time that none of them really gets the focus they deserve. But I think that may be precisely the point of the film – that in a police unit like this, there is always another case, so you never can dwell of one of them, you got to constantly keep moving on the next one. They can never focus on the pain in one case, because there`s always pain in another one to move onto.

The film focuses on the Crimes Against Children unit of the Paris Police department. It is a tight knit group who are all crammed into a small room together, bumping into each other constantly, listening in on each other`s conversations and interrogations. They have no secrets from each other – even in their private lives – most of which are in tatters. They also now have to deal with Melissa (played by Maiwenn herself) as a photo journalist who is there to document what they do on a day to day basis.

Polisse is a strange film. There is a lot of darkness in the movie that is appropriate for the subject matter. The truth is, no matter how many children the unit helps, they almost always get there too late. Many of the movies most scenes involve interrogations with men who have raped their daughters, or exploited other children in some way. The way the men act is if they have done nothing wrong, and do not see why they are being arrested. The single saddest scene may be when an immigrant woman comes in with her young son – and says she is tired of sleeping on the street with him every day – and wants the unit to find him a better home. The entire unit mobilizes to try and find them a shelter where they can stay together – and fail at even that simple task, needing the split the two up. All of these cases take their toll on the unit – are they doing any good at all. No matter their personal relationships – and even their friendships within the group – start to fray.

By design, Polisse is scattershot, jumping from one scene to the next quickly – and once they move onto the next case, the previous one is never brought up again. There are moments of lightness – group dinners and parties for example, where the team lets off some steam. And in one moment, the unit cannot help but breakdown in laughter when a teenage girl tells them why she gave blow jobs to a group of boys – the stole her cell phone and told her she had to blow them to get it back. When they start laughing at her explanation, the teen girl defends herself – “It was a smart phone!” which sends them into hysterics. After all the darkness they see, they cannot help but laugh at stupidity.

One thing I didn’t know when I watched the movie is director Maiwenn’s history. The reason she only goes by one name is not a simple case of vanity – but because her driven actress mother shoved her into the business at a young age, and at age 15 she was so angry with them, she refused to use her last name. At the same age, she began a relationship with Luc Besson, then in his early 30s, and a year later, at just 16, she gave birth of their child. Did this history, both with her parents and then Besson (the two broke up when he left her for Milla Jovovich) draw her to this material? But what does her treatment of the unit, which is sympathetic, but not glowing, really mean? I’m not sure – I think knowing her history simply raises more questions than it answers.
Polisse is an interesting, entertaining, fascinating movie. Yes, it is scattershot, and the movie kind of flies off the rails in its closing scenes – with not just one moment but two that makes little sense, including the closing moment. But there is passion here – and this messy movie is always interesting to watch.

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