After playing the victim in ’70s horror throwback “High Tension” and directing the comparatively light dramedy “Actress’ Ball,” French thespian/filmmaker Maïwenn yearned for something a bit more serious. So what better topic to tackle than one focusing on France’s Child Protection Unit (CPU)?
Sporting a large cast of characters (including the director and French rapper Joey Starr), “Polisse” shows the ins-and-outs of the police division that handles child welfare, from physical, sexual, and mental abuse to teen crimes. The filmmaker uses real incidents as a basis for the cases the officers deal with, while simultaneously delving into their personal lives, revealing how their job affects their familial relationships.
Regardless of its rather plotless structure, “Polisse” chugs along well, with enough people to follow, and conflicts to focus on, that things stay consistently interesting. We sat down with the director and got some more information regarding her process, the difference between the theatrical and director’s cuts, and what may be in store for her next. You can catch the movie when it opens May 18, check out the trailer here.
Research & Her Role
In researching the idea for the script, Maïwenn was able to get total access to the CPU, likening her work with them to an internship. “When I did the internship, I wasn’t working as a photographer or documentarian there. I was taking notes, but I wasn’t filming anything. I didn’t want to have any technical equipment with me because I didn’t want to scare them or turn them off,” she explained. The filmmaker herself also plays a photographer following the CPU within the film, which could be considered some kind of meta-role given her previous involvement with the real department: “I always enjoy seeing the directors within the film. It’s almost like Russian Dolls, but maybe it was also an extension of my role as a filmmaker.”
DVD, Longer Cut, Longer Script
Running just over two hours, “Polisse” covers a lot of ground, but apparently there’s more where that came from. “At the onset, the script was much longer,” she mentioned, also noting that she worked on the screenplay every single day for nine months. She had to be unrelenting in the editing room, but later missed scenes that lay in the trash bin: “I did edit things, but some I regretted cutting,” she disclosed, though found happiness in home video release. “I stuck them back in for the DVD, so what you see in the theaters is one film but the DVD version is another film, a director’s cut of sorts.” So what, in particular, didn’t make it into theaters? “There were too many scenes with Joey Starr and myself, for example, so a lot of that had to be cut.” A romance blooms between the two towards the middle of the movie, and Maïwenn and Starr have a tight chemistry together that helps balance the film’s generally grim tone. More time with them should prove to be entertaining and even beneficial.
It’s A Barrel O’ Laughs
Speaking of balance, the filmmaker made sure to include plenty of humor within “Polisse,” exhibiting how the officers deal with the frequent mayhem of the job. “I didn’t want it to get too heavy. I thought the danger of the film was to go in a direction of victimization and pathos, so I wanted to balance that out,” she noted. One scene involves a young teen confidently explaining how she performed fellatio in order to get her cellphone — a dead-face confession that causes the entire unit to erupt in laugher. “I think that’s life, too. You go to a burial, you giggle, that kind of stuff happens. That’s how I respond, that’s my life.” While these moments were contained in the script, Maïwenn also thought the actual shooting amplified the humor.
Seeing as the CPU deals heavily with charges of pedophilia — and, to make matters more complicated, whether the accuser is actually telling the truth or not — one of the more curious omissions is the threat of online predators. While the filmmaker did want to tackle these kind of cases, she saw no morally appropriate way to do it. “How can you talk about the internet or what’s going on in that sector without showing images? I had a choice: either I cast child actors who were going to play in scenes with pedophiles, or I had to buy pedophile pornography. My conscience refused both options,” she admitted. “But I did have a shot with the girl putting her hand in her underwear. It was a little frustrating for me to not be able to go further because there were a lot of things I could’ve shown, but it wasn’t possible.”
For “Polisse,” you’ll find more than one comparison to the lauded, gritty HBO program “The Wire.” Given the film’s numerous characters and cases, the television format could lend plenty to her script — an idea she was approached with as well. “I think the Americans want to buy the film rights to make a series out of it. I’d like to have some part of it, the experience would be good — it’d be a new venture. There’s a lot of substance there, there’s endless possibilities of where it could go.” There are few details there, and it’s unclear how much of a sure thing it is. Similarly, Maïwenn herself seems to be unsure what’s next, but did mention a type of project she’d like to do somewhere down the line: “A vacation film, like three months in the Bahamas or something. I love those kind of movies and would love to do one. Friends go on holiday together and something happens to them, etc.” Despite its humor, “Polisse” still deals with grave topics, and it appears she’s ready for something a bit lighter… unless one of the friends murders someone. Well, at least the location is sublime.