Actress-director Maïwenn’s searing ensemble drama “Polisse” follows the day to day lives of the Parisian Police Department’s Juvenile Protection Unit (CPU)
Melissa (Maïwenn) plays a photographer assigned by the Ministry of the Interior to document the unit. Married to a powerful man, sheltered Melissa fights her way into the close-knit unit to get her story.
The layered mosaic film plays like an entire session of HBO’s “The Wire” or “Law and Order: SVU”, if it had been shot by Robert Altman. Laure Gardette’s nervous edit and Maïwenn & Emmanuelle Bercot’s ambitious script begins with a series of horrific interviews of possible perpetrators and their young victims (researched from the unit’s actual files.) Unlike the tidy world of TV intercutting, Maïwenn gives us views of the unit’s group interaction against a backdrop of interviews, busts and searches, letting the many character’s emerge organically.
These cops (who get little respect from the regular Police Department) are a symbiotic pack, as ready to party together as brawl, and as might be expected, long hours together even leads to romance. (Melissa and Joey.)
Forced to face down humanity’s bleakest side on a daily basis, they’re given to erotic gossip, drinking sessions and line dancing at clubs, all of which sets the stage for some fierce out of control sequences. Exhausted from the daily barrage of shocking cases, from trying to sensitively parse conflicting testimony, they rely on each other fiercely and scrap like siblings.
Nadine, in a strong perf by Karin Viard (“Le Skylab”,” Nothing to Declare”, “Potiche”) divorces her adulterous husband. Bulimic partner, Iris (Marina Fois), who’s trying to get pregnant, rides Nadine incessantly and their battle is just one of the unit’s internal areas of strife.
Mathieu (Nicolas Duvauchelle-“White Material”. “Girl On the Train”, “Wild Grasses”) secretly loves married partner, Chrys (Karole Rocher), who’s pregnancy is a stumbling block to their potential affair.
The first case, that of little Dolorès (Malonn Lévana) who confesses to Chrys (Karole Rocher), that her father “scratches her butt,” is a model of the problems the officers face- whose testimony to believe and how to control unwilling suspects.
Louis-Do de Lencquesaing (Father of My Children) plays M. de la Faublaise, the wealthy perpetrator, who hides behind his political connections to quash his case. Sandrine Kiberlain plays his disbelieving wife. Believing himself above the law, de la Faublaise’s cocky remarks drive Fred to KO him in the office.
Fond of cutting red tape, humanist Fred is already in the crosshairs of their Unit chief Beauchard (Wladimir Yordanoff). When higher-ups order the case dropped, craven opportunist Beauchard kowtows but Fred refuses to give up.
Paternal Balloo (Frederic Pierrot-Frédéric Pierrot) keeps his high maintenance crew in line. When Fred runs afoul of Beauchard he supports him and when his marriage founders, he puts him up.
Marcial Di Fonzo Bo plays the gym teacher who abuses his young student Solal (Joseph Créhange) in what has become for both of them a troubling love relationship.
Arabic officer Nora (Naidra Ayadi) goes ballistic on an Algerian man for forcing his 14-year old daughter into an arranged marriage. “Show me in the Koran where it says it’s the right thing to do ” she screams at the father, facing a potential rape charge
Maïwenn allows her emotional scenes to play all the way out, which along with the straight-ahead gritty hand-held digital cinematography (Pierre Aïm-“le Hain”. “Monsieur N”) adds to the riveting docu-drama quality.
Maïwenn coaches stunning perfs from her entire cast. Stephen Warbeck’s sparse score is another plus.
Maïwenn balances the absorbing drama with laughs (consider the uncomfortable questioning of an affect-less teenage girl who traded blow jobs to recover her cell phone. Agape, the officers can’t help giggling at her clueless answers, illustrating the enormous generation gap at play.)
A round up at a gypsy camp, a balls out office fight, an office suicide that plays like a dark non-sequitor are some of the electrifying scenes, but the heart of the film is a sequence involving a homeless West African woman (Bine Sarambounou) who wanders into the Unit to ask them to care for her young son. Desperate to see her son out of the cold, she begs the unit to find them shelter, They try everything but there’s nothing available for the pair so they take young Ousman (Gaye Sarambounou). As the mother leaves, Ousaman screams to follow her, which heartbroken fatherly Fred holds him. A MUST SEE.