July 2012

Essays

'Polisse' by Maïwenn (director)

By Carrie Tiffany
'Polisse' by Maïwenn (director), in limited release from 28 June.
'Polisse' by Maïwenn (director), in limited release from 28 June.

French director Maïwenn wrote the script for Polisse (with Emmanuelle Bercot) after an internship with the child protection unit of the Paris police.

Polisse flicks through dozens of child protection cases drawn from real life; rape, incest, sexual abuse, pick-pocketing, internet pornography, stolen children, abandoned children. The film’s child actors have uncanny poise. Their secrets give them a kind of clarity, a weighty stillness. A freckled blonde tells her mother cryptically that her father loves her too much. A noodle-limbed young gymnast blushes shyly in front of his creepy coach. A homely teenager, her lips raw from over-licking, gives birth to a stillborn baby and reaches for the swaddled corpse to apologise. The baby is the result of rape. Although brief, these scenes are forceful and unsettling.

It is in dramatising the lives of the police that the film comes undone. The police of the child protection unit drink, dance and screw. They live sprawling and exhausting lives yelling at their spouses and exes and marching their children across darkened streets from house to house. Nobody understands them or the stresses of the work they do. Their bosses are unfeeling bureaucrats. They work all hours. They will do anything to save a child. They are every cliché you’ve ever seen in a television show about cops.

The plot hangs on the loose conceit that a documentary photographer has been assigned to the unit. The photographer (played by Maïwenn) is a serious young woman. When police tough-guy Fred (JoeyStarr) confronts her for snapping him eating fries rather than searching for an abducted baby, he is asking a critical question for the film – what’s your point of view? But we never see the young woman’s photographs and soon Fred is unpinning her hair and removing her glasses to discover that she’s beautiful. (Who knew?) Cue sexy dancing.

The film motors on at a blistering pace and with wild shifts of tone. A scene at a nightclub where our fit and photogenic cops cavort to disco music looks like a grab from Fame. When a busload of Romanian children are distraught at being removed from their families, the police play a pop song that has everyone grinning in a jiffy. Perhaps the oddest scene involves Fred bathing his toddler daughter. Fred keeps his jocks on and turns to the wall as he instructs the wee tot to soap her “girly bits”.

In its rush to fill more frames with hysterical cops, Polisse dilutes and simplifies the stories that it seeks to tell. It’s a great pity, as the performances of the children who tell them are very fine.

Carrie Tiffany
Carrie Tiffany is a novelist and former park ranger. Her books include Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living and Mateship with Birds.

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