The highly lauded French drama “Polisse” is an “inside” look at the dozen or so dedicated members of the Parisian Child Protection Unit.
The highly lauded French drama “Polisse” has the makings for a pretty good cop show. But as a movie, this “inside” look at the dozen or so dedicated members of the Parisian Child Protection Unit is conspicuously lacking in coherence and depth.
With too many characters working numerous underdeveloped cases, the latest flick from mono-monikered director Maiwenn (“The Actress’ Ball”) collapses under the weight of its own excess. Working with co-star and co-writer Emmanuelle Bercot, Maiwenn bites off more than we can chew by inundating us with inner-departmental romances, anorexia, catfights, social injustices and enough suspected pedophiles to start a Michael Jackson fan club. She’s also not above establishing a salacious tone from time to time. Yet it’s nearly impossible to glance away, as you catch yourself slowly becoming engrossed in the daily lives of a diverse collection of fallible detectives fighting to filter out the filth deposited by the disgusting perps they encounter.
How anyone can maintain their sanity under such a never-ending assault is beyond comprehension, but Maiwenn intriguingly discovers that even the most hardened cops have a breaking point. And when it’s reached, watch out, because it can manifest itself over an eclectic spectrum ranging from gallows humor to suicide.
What transpires during “Polisse’s” all-too-short 127 minutes falls directly between the bleak cynicism of “The Wire,” and the sanitized darkness of the prime-time machinations on “Law and Order: SVU.” Never dull and far swifter than justice, “Polisse” (the title inspired by a child’s spelling of ‘police”) errs only in its inability to fully flesh out its wide array of characters, all of whom are deserving of a 12- or 13-episode arc, a la “The Wire” on cable. A handful are granted more opportunities than others, as Maiwenn disappointingly plays favorites with her rap-star boyfriend, Joeystarr, who claims the most screen time despite portraying the film’s least interesting character. Well, he does unless you count Maiwenn, who casts herself as a Ministry photog sent to chronicle the goings on inside the CPU, thus providing us our fly-on-the-wall perspective.
Conveniently, the script includes a budding romance between her Melissa and Joeystarr’s Fred, but it plays as little more than a distracting contrivance, as does an unrequited romance between a smitten male detective and a colleague, who is married and expecting her first child. Toss in bickering Francophile versions of Cagney and Lacey, and Maiwenn more than meets her quota of soapy melodrama. Lost in all the suds is an opportunity to explore more of the professional struggles of child police struggling to maintain their cool while interrogating abusive and neglectful parents, or, worse, child rapists, most of whom prey on their young daughters, granddaughters or nieces.
Maiwenn presents us with more than a half-dozen of these “fact-based” cases, but does little or nothing to develop them beyond providing sordid details and a quick up-close-and-personal with the creepy suspects, some of whom appallingly believe that the richer you are the more carte blanche you have to rape and molest. And it’s those types of insights that provide “Polisse” with its most gripping moments. Ditto for Maiwenn’s efforts to communicate how cops undertake the futile task of trying to wind down by hanging together like family after hours, either at a disco or in a colleague’s living room playing a spirited game of charades.
By the end, you’re convinced that you wouldn’t trade places with any of them – not for a second. A sentiment that also includes a newfound respect for the people who perform these thankless tasks under the umbrella of a police department that routinely treats them as second-class citizens, as evidenced by the riveting climax (shot superbly by director of photography Pierre Aim) inside a bustling shopping mall. It’s a shame we’re not afforded the opportunity to get to know them even better. Had we, perhaps “Polisse” wouldn’t feel like such a crime.
POLISSE (Unrated) Cast includes Maiwenn, Emmanuelle Bercot and Joeystarr. Co-written and directed by Maiwenn. In French with English subtitles. 2.5 stars out of 4.