Polisse (review)

Polisse yellow light Marina Fois Karin Viard

It’s like the French version of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, except every case is one that would send Detective Elliot Stabler totally mental and inspire him to punch a wall or two. For these are the tales of the Paris police service’s Child Protection Unit, and every single case is unutterably sad and desperate, and impacts this team of dedicated officers in ways even they never quite expect. Except, too, that this isn’t a TV series, it’s a single two-hour movie… which is its biggest flaw. There’s a whole season’s worth of cop angst, child horror, and general soap opera crammed into far too short a running time for everything it hopes to achieve. Most objectionable is the character of the photographer hired by the government to document the unit’s work. Played by actress Maïwenn (Switchblade Romance), she feels shoehorned into the action, even more so when she ends up clashing with one of the cops (Joey Starr) who objects to her presence and her work, for this subplot goes nowhere interesting. Far worse, this narrative detour is all the more unconscionable when you know that Maiwenn is also directing here, from a screenplay she wrote with Emmanuelle Bercot (who also appears in the film); while it may be perfectly reasonable for her to have wanted to a juicy part for herself in her own film, that role shouldn’t feel like it’s dragging attention away from the ostensible focus of the story. Still, there’s a power to Polisse — winner of the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for 13 César Awards — that is undeniable. Some of the situations the cops encounter are haunting and shocking, and linger in my mind in ways I wish they didn’t, especially when I know that they are based on the files of the real unit. It’s the lack of followup with them that really bothers me, in ways both good and bad. It leaves an aftertaste of slightly unsatisfying storytelling… and yet it probably accurate mirrors the reality of the police who work such cases. They likely never know, either, which kids come out at the other end of their nightmares intact, and which don’t.

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