out of Five
Running time: 127
Impressively directed, powerfully moving and frequently shocking fly-on-the-wall French police drama with a strong script and terrific performances from a fine ensemble cast.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by actress-turned writer-director Maïwenn Le Besco (aka just Maïwenn), Polisse is set in present-day Paris and centres on a group of police officers working for the Child Protection Unit (CPU) in the working-class, multi-ethnic Belleville district. As the various cases come and go, the emotional and physical toll taken on each team member gradually becomes apparent.
The film is structured like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, with the framing device of the team being observed by Melissa (Maïwenn), a photographer assigned to document the CPU as they go about their day-to-day activities. There's no main plot to speak of, but various sub-plots emerge along the way, including: a burgeoning relationship between Melissa and volatile cop Fred (rapper JoeyStarr); kind-hearted Nadine (Karen Viard) going through a messy divorce and rowing with her highly strung work partner Iris (Marina Fois), who's dealing with problems of her own; an African woman attempting to abandon her young child into the CPU's care; a raid on a group of Romanian immigrants running a child pickpocket ring; an undercover operation at a mall; and the case of a wealthy, well-connected child molester (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) who smugly (and correctly) predicts that his powerful connections will get him off.
Maïwenn has assembled a fine ensemble cast and the performances are excellent across the board, particularly JoeyStarr, Karen Viard and Marina Fois. There's also terrific support from the likes of Louis-Do de Lencquesaing and Sandrine Kiberlain (as his suspicious wife), while Maïwenn elicits an extraordinary and powerfully emotional outburst from a young child that is devastating to watch.
The script (co-written with co-star Emmanuelle Bercot) is drawn from real-life cases, so the subject matter is understandably both shocking and depressing, though Maïwenn is careful to find moments of humour for the characters, however inappropriate that might be (one memorable scene has the team corpsing with laughter as a young girl relates how she retrieved her stolen mobile phone) and there's a terrific nightclub sequence when the team all let off steam together.
Though it has drawn comparisons to The Wire (perhaps because it's somewhat sprawling in nature), Polisse actually has a lot more in common with French TV series Engrenages (aka Spiral, currently being repeated on BBC Four), both in terms of its style and content; at any rate, fans of Spiral are likely to enjoy Polisse and vice versa.
Polisse is a well made, sharply observed French policier that's by turns shocking, gripping and powerfully emotional. Highly recommended.