Polisse opens with the stark image of a wide eyed young girl facing an off screen police officer. Prompted by the female officer, the child, in a few blatant words, begins to detail her father's actions when she goes to sleep. The off screen police officer is not shocked by what she is told, instead, as per procedure, she questions the child, trying to determine whether the father's actions are in fact sexual abuse.
Preceding this introduction is a title card, noting that the film is based on real child investigation cases handled by the Parisian Child Protection Unit (CPU). Many film critics for this reason have lazily described Polisse as a feature length version of police procedural television shows such as Law & Order. However, Polisse is not entertainment, it is in fact, a deft cry for help.
Written and directed by Maïwenn, Polisse was the recipient of the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for thirteen César Awards in 2012. It has been released theatrically in Australia after being on the international film festival circuit, including this year's Sydney Film Festival. The film features an all star cast, including Joeystarr, Karin Viard, Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle and Riccardo Scamarcio.
Polisse concerns the Child Protection Unit (CPU) in Belleville. We follow the unit case to case - there is the drug addict who kidnaps her infant child, the mother who comes to realise her husband is sexually abusing their teenage daughter, the gymnastic teacher who sexually abuses his young student, the teenage rape victim who must have an abortion, the homeless mother who can no longer care for her son - it's endless string of modern horror that is indiscriminate - the exploitation, the torment, the suffering is everywhere.
Maïwenn is particularly focussed on the unit itself, which has somewhat formed into a dysfunctional family. We follow the police officers after hours and each appears to have a tumultuous private life; alcoholism, bulimia, divorce and infidelity are all depicted. However, the film never descends into run of the mill melodrama, as with each waking day, these personal issues are put aside as new cases are handed out.
Polisse is not an easy film to watch - much of the 'real life' materiel is unpleasant, but it is terribly important to view and certainly affecting. The ambitious film does have some flaws but Maïwenn's heart is in the right place and importantly, the depicted members of the unit are not shown to be heroic - which is a decision Maïwenn should be applauded for. As a result, Polisse is a complex drama which is arresting and unpredictable and will stay with the audience long after the final shocking scene.