By Hemanth Kissoon
“I’ll send a team.”
Based on real cases of a French police child protection unit, this is far from an easy watch. It is an ensemble piece. We witness the routines, off duty steam-release, and toll on the force, as they try to catch the worst of humanity. Our entry into this world, is also the director and co-writer, Maïwenn, who plays a photo journalist tasked with covering what they do. It’s not the most original device, but the fact that she ends up having an affair with a cop adds a fresh twist.
For Francophile cinema lovers there is a host of recognisable talent taking on the various roles. Occasionally over-egged, the acting is generally sans fault; it can’t be easy to be simultaneously faithful, truthful and engaging. The subject matter is too dark and disturbing to allow for large grandstanding. There are more moments of levity to allow the audience to breathe however, without demeaning proceedings.
The problem I had with POLISSE is not on a technical level, but on a narrative one. Police procedural dramas on the small screen, like HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, THE WIRE and THE SHIELD, loom large, and cast a massive shadow. I can think of only two films in the last decade or so, in the genre, which can compete with those shows: MEMORIES OF MURDER and ZODIAC. These are so lean and focused and feel complete, with bravura filmmaking. POLISSE on the other hand feels like a pilot episode, setting up a new show. It’s analysis of private and professional lives are crammed with ideas and tonal shifts which feel disjointed in such a short running time.
The film is ambitious in scope, seeming to want to show the minutia of such harrowing work, while also being a character study in individual personalities and group dynamics. There is a fly-on-the-wall sensibility, avoiding that crappy jittery camerawork that plagues so much cinema desiring of gravitas.