Stephen Rebello reviews the gritty French police drama Polisse.
Polisse delivers two-plus hours of gripping, galvanizing and deeply troubling drama. Directed by actress Maïwenn, who cowrote the complex, bracingly intelligent screenplay with Emmanuelle Bercot, the film’s flawed heroes are cops in the Child Protection Unit of the Paris police force. The fact that Maïwenn, who apparently spent many weeks in total immersion in this world, drew the cases from real life almost defies belief because every other minute, the officers face horrific new crises involving kids who've been abandoned, sexually abused, hopelessly mistreated. It’s a portrait of lives lived in constant triage, with bureaucracy often mucking things up even more. They're dedicated, flawed, frantic, sometimes incredibly generous, often barely able to hang on. In their off hours, their personal lives are messy. They cannot possibly leave their work behind them, their fellow officers treat them with condescension and they cope through gallows humor the way people do in war, in hospitals — anywhere people are living on the knife-edge.
Though comparisons to, say, The Wire are inevitable, this extremely disturbing, beautifully made film is a singular astonishment featuring superb performances by Joeystarr (a rapper), Karin Viard, Marina Foïs, actress-filmmaker Maïwenn herself, and others. Polisse burrows deep under your skin and stays there. No wonder the documentary-like film copped the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year.