Polisseis a French-language movie about an ensemble of battered officers from Paris' tight-knit Child Protection Unit. In it, painstakingly-crafted characters theatrically negotiate complex relationship dynamics while interrogating lusty pedophiles and investigating claims of incestuous rape among the bourgeois. A writing collaboration between director Maïwenn and Emmanuelle Bercot, Polisse functions more as an informative and thoroughly researched expose than a compelling narrative, per se. Its failures in the storytelling department, however, are mostly redeemed by a meticulous and earnest pursuit of authenticity throughout.
Our ball-busting CPU cops courageously combat monstrous criminals on the clock, only to return home after long absences and abuse their own loved ones through acts of infidelity and self-harm. They battle compulsions from alcoholism to bulimia with varying degrees of self-awareness and sensitivity to their surroundings. Since not a single corner was cut in the weaving of the character web, we remain keenly aware of everyone's motivations and fears through their many conflicts with family and colleagues. Since none of the dialog feels "written," save for a few unnecessary bouts of exposition, there's an aspect of voyeurism that feels thrilling and taboo.
It's no surprise that Maïwenn got her original spark of inspiration from a revealing television documentary on the CPU. This movie, a sort of tribute, seems redundant at first glance. If there's already a good documentary on the subject, I wondered, do we also need an understated, hyper-realistic fictional rendering of it? But somehow the gritty workplace drama turns into a beautifully insightful meditation on intimacy, vulnerability and sexual confusion in the fractured lives of law-enforcing bleeding hearts and their hopelessly depraved counterparts in a cramped metropolis. Each scene becomes a curious specimen on its own, despite the overall lack of resolution in many subplots. Most interesting are the loaded, often highly-charged interactions taking place at home, over paperwork at the office, out on the field and at the bar after hours. Even seemingly inconsequential tiffs cleverly lay bare universal human insecurities and anxieties, making the major outbursts all the more exciting to watch.
Gifted rapper-turned-actor Joeystarr stands out as the incorrigible Fred, a thin-skinned agent who can't help but internalize the daily horrors of his job. The streetwise rebel of the bunch, Fred has a soft spot for his little girl and a horrible case of roaming eye. Though photojournalist Melissa (portrayed by Maïwenn) is the least fascinating personality of the group by far, she manages to catch Fred's attention in the film's few moments of flirtatious tension. Their half-hatched romance isn't stylized in the same way it would have been in a more traditional feature; still, the pair's shared screen time reminds us that true love will always win out, even despite the lovers' daily exposure to unimaginable cases of psychopathic perversion.
Joeystarr's intelligent and honest treatment of the material is especially awe-inspiring, but all others in the cast are almost as affecting. Marina Foïs is gutting as the emotionally hollow Iris, a man-hating, self-loathing bully who's ill-advisedly trying to conceive a defenseless baby. The ruggedly charming Frédéric Pierrot is magnetic and in command while chain-smoking and trying to have casual sex with his wife. The one unfortunate thing about this movie is that all of its characters' largely untold stories are more intriguing than many of the snippets that survived the patchwork editing process. There's an achingly poetic tone to several scenes, which tells me this film could have benefited from a bit less restraint and more creative license. Despite this, Maïwenn is to be admired for her ruthless pursuit of truth and a passion for detail work not often displayed by modern filmmakers, and her movie leaves a lasting impression.