Review of Polisse

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A journalist begins an affair with one of her subjects after being assigned to a juvenile division.
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Movie Review: "Polisse"

--Rating: NR
Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: May 18, 2012 (United States)
Directed By: Maïwenn
Genre: Crime, Drama

Police dramas are a dime a dozen, but the French film "Polisse" gives the classic story a twist. The movie is unique because it jumps right into the action without missing a beat. Most modern police dramas spend far too much time plodding along, trying to make viewers care about the buildup to the plot. "Polisse" had a documentary feel that gets viewers interested in the movie, even though it does not have much of a plot.

"Polisse" tells the story of the Child Protection Unit in Paris, France. The group is similar to the group of police officers on the American television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, except that the French police force focuses on the welfare of children. The officers have an especially difficult job because they work with children who face sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at home. They even find some of the children living on the street because of the conditions they face at home.

Director Maïwenn, sometimes credited as Maïwenn Le Besco, decided to make the film after seeing what the police unit faces on a daily basis. The director met with police officers, listened to their stories, and used those stories as the heart of the film. Many of the cases the movie covers are cases that real-life officers saw firsthand. Her attention to detail brings a surprising element to the film. With most police movies, the films focus on spectacular car crashes, police chases, and other exciting moments. "Polisse" focuses on the moments that lack special effects but have just as much impact.

Some of the darkest moments in the movie come when one officer interviews a victim. One of those moments occurs when a young girl admits to an officer that her father plays with her when he gives her a bath. Another moment occurs when a teenager shows no remorse while admitting that she trades sexual favors for money, food, and other items. The movie also introduces the adult characters who commit these atrocities. When the police hear of a mother who shook her baby, they bring her into the station. The mother doesn't think twice before telling police that she uses sexual tricks on her other son because it helps him sleep. The son in question is just 3 years old.

"Polisse" intersperses the interviews with scenes involving the police force. Many films make the mistake of showing police officers as a group of good friends who rarely squabble. In this movie, the hardships of the job sometimes lead to fighting and backstabbing among colleagues. Iris (Karin Viard, "My Piece of the Pie," "Nothing to Declare") and Nadine (Marina Fois, "22 Bullets," "Four Lovers") are two of the only women on the force. Though the two start off as friends, the tension they face at work eventually causes the disintegration of that friendship. The two switch back and forth between being friends and enemies until they can no longer handle being in the same room together.

The movie also shows the hardships these officers face once they get home at night. After seeing horrific things on the streets, many of them want compassion and understanding from their families, but they deny them any type of comfort. One character knows that her husband cheats on her, and while she is strong on the job, she cannot find the courage or strength to leave him. Another character battles anorexia but will not seek help or tell co-workers about her problem.

"Polisse" features documentary style camerawork, which can sometimes feel jarring and unsettling. Le Besco steps in front of the camera for a few minutes, playing a woman filming a documentary on the police squad. Though she is a talented and capable actress, some of her scenes seem forced. Some viewers might find themselves wondering if the film even needs her role. She mainly sets up the movie and explains some scenes, but the movie could go on just as well without her.

Though "Polisse" does have a few flaws, they do not take away from the film. From the opening scene to the moment when the credits roll, viewers will find themselves caught up in the dark and gritty world of the Child Protection Unit. This powerful movie will change the way the audience thinks about police work. The subject matter might seem unsettling at times, but it is a story worth spending 110 minutes watching.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars