Second Opinion: Polisse

'Polisse is everything I hate about 'important' movies.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


I knew I was going to be in the minority opinion on Polisse. You make a movie about the hard life of cops investigating child sex crimes, you’ve automatically got the audience and critics on your side. I mean, who could take anything away from the people trying to rescue children, hardened by the darkness of their job.

And I like movies about dark subjects. I like them to shine a light on real problems, and sometimes elevate the subject beyond “important” social messages and awards-buzz performances. Precious, Monster’s Ball, Seven Pounds, Hotel Rwanda, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Requiem for a Dream and Life is Beautiful are some examples of the good ones. Unfortunately, Polisse is everything I hate about “important” movies.

Polisse seems like a very well researched movie. Writer/director Maiwenn included lots of details and lots of procedure for how the juvenile division handles different types of suspects. There’s the gross negligence, the willful harm, the sleazy connected politico who’s frustratingly untouchable, and some ignorant parents who just don’t know any better. It also seems like the characters could be based on people Maiwenn met in the real juvenile division; she tried to capture every aspect of their office.

Here’s where it loses me. I know child crime is horrible. I can imagine the cops trying to protect them have an impossible job, one that destroys their personal lives. That is not a film. That is baseline where you must start to build a film. Maiwenn is coasting on the inherent emotions the premise will elicit. It’s obvious, and she’s pretentious about it.

First of all, every character yells and screams throughout the movie. I have no doubt that real juvenile division officers get heated and don’t have the benefit of an articulate screenwriter giving them nice words to say. I find it lazy to put these shouting matches in a film and call it intensity. I’m also not a fan of Robert Altman’s style of overlapping dialogue, so it’s a purely personal preference. I don’t think that “naturalistic” approach conveys the intensity that a carefully worded script would.

The characters go through the emotions you’d expect in a very one dimensional way. One woman hates men after all her years seeing the evil that men do, and it really means she’s closing herself off from emotional attachments. Perhaps even more infuriating is the woman who takes advice from this character. The hothead wants to hit the child abusers, but of course that just ruins their case when the lawyers can claim police brutality. It’s telling that I remember these types more than their names.

Sometimes they joke inappropriately, because how else do you get through the day? That would be a darkly poignant angle but it comes across as phony. It just sits on the surface of a giggle fit, like the juxtaposition of the humor and the crime is enough. It’s not. You have to analyze what sparks the giggle fit at that moment, both in the investigation and at that point in the story.

I found it all predictable, especially the “shocking” moment that had the whole theater gasping. I knew that’s how it was going to end. How else do these movies ever end? The actors are all good. They definitely didn’t feel like they were faking the indignity and uncontrollable rage. No knock on them. They’re just doing what they’re directed to do.

And then there’s the shaky cam. I’m not a fan of handheld shooting in any type of film. It is a false way to generate “intensity.” Real life doesn’t shake, etc., yadda yadda yadda. That’s a lengthier aesthetic discussion, but you really realize how obnoxious shaking handheld shots are when you’re reading subtitles that stay steady.

It comes down to a difference in worldview. I’m all for saving children but I find movies like Polisse exploiting the subject for cheap drama. When an artist can make you forget you’re watching an “important” movie then that’s when art can elevate real life tragedy.