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France 2011
Directed by
127 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars


Synopsis: Based on actual case files, this is a slice of life dramatisation of the inner workings of the Paris Child Protection Unit.

You’d think a film about the work of police tasked with chasing down paedophiles and abusive parents would be laudable yet near-unwatchable due to its grimy and unpleasant subject matter. At least in this case, you’d be wrong. The great surprise of Polisse is that a film dealing with paedophilia, neglect and other assorted horrors can be entertaining and even quite funny. Maiwenn’s film is an odd beast that manages to balance humour and horror in equal measure. The key is her focus on the police themselves, with their lives, loves and heartbreaks carrying you through some fairly dark material. By showing you how they cope, she gives you a way to cope as well. The little rivalries, romances, bickering and genuine camaraderie of the squad are deftly handled, the actors all bringing a profound sense of presence to their roles. These are fully fleshed-out people and the effortlessness with which we pass through their lives is a testament to the skill of the director.

Polisse is a sprawling work, covering the lives of multiple characters, weaving between multiple cases and the one criticism I’ll make of the film is that in its breadth there’s occasionally a lack of depth. There’s one character in particular for whom this really struck me, as she’s intended to show the very real psychological cost the work has on people. But somehow the thread of her unspooling sanity is lost in the midst of too many stories. When everything hits the fan it does make sense, there’s enough background to make it all work. Yet it still felt like it came out of nowhere, as that element of the story had dropped off my radar probably a good hour before it returned with a vengeance.

But to criticise a film as effective as this is for failing in one detail when the canvas is so huge and full of life is really nitpicking, and the only reason it leaps out is because of how finely judged is the rest of the film. Polisse is excellent filmmaking that takes a difficult subject and infuses it with life and, occasionally, even hope. Given that it’s a year since I saw it (at MIFF 2011) and I still vividly remember so much of it I’d say it’s one you should go and see.




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