Model turned filmmaker Maiwenn brings us the Cannes prize winning crime drama Polisse, which opens this week.
Polisse concerns the Child Protection Unit department of the French police department, and is filled up with various characters including the depressed Iris (Marina Fois), secretly pregnant Chrys (Karole Rocher) and Fred (Joey Starr) one of the top dogs of the force who takes matters a little too much to heart. When photographer Melissa (Maiwenn) is assigned to cover the group for a new book, she starts a relationship with Fred and sees for herself that the CPU brings people together, but also puts them under almost unmanageable levels of stress.
Polisse has been a while coming to the UK. In made a splash at the Cannes Film Festival last year, but was drowned out a bit by the far more immediately striking like of The Artist and Drive. It still managed to walk away with the Jury Prize though, and was also nominated for a veritable shit load of awards at the Cesars, the French version of the Oscars.
In many ways, it’s not hard to see why Polisse would strike a chord with so many people. This is at times tough and uncompromising stuff, Maiwenn’s documentary styled filmmaking creating a sense of “you are there”. It makes many scenes hard to take – although she doesn’t wallow in the dark stuff, she does linger, giving the audience time to let what is occurring on screen really sink in. Very frank exchanges are had, something which would obviously need to be done in this kind of a situation where getting straight to the point is key to finding out answers,. One scene in particular is one of the more harrowing things I have seen on screen lately, an on-screen birth that is tinged with an overwhelming feel of depression and sadness; the young actress playing the girl giving birth in particular is quite extraordinary in a tiny bit of screen time.
What is also quite impressive on reflection is how it is unafraid to show the people of the CPU blowing off some steam. Seeing them playing games and going out drinking is I suppose fairly standard stuff, but there is also one scene which I was pretty stunned by at the time as they outright break out into hysterics while questioning a young girl who seems to really need some help. On watching the film I thought this was a very peculiar misstep, breaking the tone of everything that had come before and instead trying to actively go for laughs. But it occured to me that you’d never get this in many other films or documentaries looking at this subject matter. These are human beings and in a job which must be like a pressure cooker at many moments, occasionally an inappropriate release valve will be set off and this is just one example of it, and this does work quite well.
Not working as well is Maiwenn’s sense of how to structure a film, and it very much feels like the first-time filmmaker work. The narrative plays out in repetitive beats of serious work stuff, personal stuff, serious work stuff, personal stuff, rinse, repeat and remains that way for most of the runtime. While the two elements occasionally mix into the other, you can always be sure that after a few minutes, you’re going to be moving onto something else. This also creates a rather choppy feel to proceedings. There are an awful lot of characters within the CPU who we are expected to keep track of and some certainly work better than others. Fred and Melissa have a relationship which starts off in an antagonistic way before moving onto more standard falling in love stuff and Iris’ scenes work well when she’s on screen but she’s not given enough time to really breathe, and so when her arc is wrapped up in a key moment at the end of the film, it all feels a little unjustified. Coupled with some of the only really “showy” visuals of the entire thing, feels like a weak way to wrap up proceedings. Aside from this, the rather stock people who love each other secretly and the people at the top who may not be running things as they should aspects, along with other mini-arcs, feel redundant. Their presence creates a rather more “busy” world but it doesn’t feel successfully fleshed out and damages the film as a result.
Polisse is certainly a recommended watch. There are sequences in the film which are both effective and affecting, something not every film can boast. It is a problematic experience though with the inexperience of a director not entirely sure how to play out a narrative, marring proceedings. Despite this, I look forward to seeing what Maiwenn can do and in a weekend with much bigger fare, this could be of interest to those of you wanting something more thoughtful.
Polisse is out Friday 15h June through Artificial Eye.