Polisse is a sprawling but vivid portrait of the Paris police department’s Child Protection Unit, a tight-knit group of colleagues whose emotionally draining work (like protecting children from sexual predators within their own family) affects their private lives as well as their relationships on the job. The grisly, sometimes heartbreaking cases they encounter on a daily basis would touch, or distress, anyone not made of stone.
Filmmaker and actress Maïwenn has fashioned this provocative film with co-writer Emmanuelle Bercot from stories they learned, and witnessed, while spending time with the real-life unit; no wonder so many of the hair-raising vignettes have the ring of truth. Bercot also appears as one of the protection team members. Maïwenn (whom some viewers will remember from Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, years ago) plays a dowdy photographer who is assigned to cover their work and falls in love with the resident hothead: a passionate man, played by real-life rapper Joeystarr, who can’t distance himself from his work.
Maïwenn’s storytelling approach is oblique and untidy, but that seems to suit the subject and its multiplicity of characters. We come to know many of the police professionals who devote themselves to their jobs and have to find some way to let off steam—sometimes after hours, where no harm is done, and sometimes in the office, where the results can be volatile. One has to wonder how anybody survives the rigors of this assignment.
There are no weak links in the cast, an impressive array of French cinema stalwarts who make their flawed characters seem absolutely real. Polisse is an extreme alternative to the Hollywood summer movie—the polar opposite of escapism. But it is a striking and unusual piece of work that’s well worth seeing.