By Myriam Ghattas
Child abuse, infant abduction, rape, incest and abandonment are just some of the cases that we get a glimpse of in “Polisse” (2011) that explores the day to day business of being a BPM (Brigade for the Protection of Minors) in France. Set in Paris, the film tells this special division of cops’ personal stories along with those of the minors they help protect. Maïwenn Le Besco co-writes with Emmanuelle Bercot and directs this new ensemble feature, her third (“Pardonnez-moi”; “Le Bal Des Actrices”), which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
Maïwenn’s film is intricate in its thorough presentation of numerous characters’ stories happening all at once, floating from one to the next then separating them before regrouping them once more into a rising crescendo of events. To get an idea of the complexity of the task, achieved in just over two hours, some introductions are in order.
There is Nadine (Karin Viard), mother of two going through a divorce she is unsure about; her partner Iris (Marina Foïs), a bulimic thirty-something whose biological clock is ticking fruitlessly; Fred (Joey Starr) who has had it rough judging from his behavioral inclination and is at odds with the mother of his daughter; their division’s chief, Baloo (Frédéric Pierrot), who has to negotiate a losing battle on a daily basis with a complacent head of department, Beauchard (Wladimir Yordanoff), who enjoys a healthily feisty relationship with his wife at home.
A few supporting characters complete this colorful bunch: Gabriel (Jérémie Elkaïm) whose eloquence and sophistication cause him to be the butt of his teammates’ jokes; Mathieu (Nicolas Devauchelle) the hopeless romantic in search for the love of his life; his team partner Chrys (Karole Rocher) who shares a questionably platonic relationship with Mathieu; Sue Ellen (Emmanuelle Bercot) the sensuous good-natured lesbian; and finally, Nora (Naidra Ayadi) the go-to for any Arab-related incidents who will snap out in fiery Franco-Arabic remonstrances faster than you can take cover.
An additional character, that of a photographer, Melissa (Maiwenn) is added, or shall we say imposed onto the team — an idiosyncratic feature of Maïwenn’s films — and tags along snapping pictures at decidedly annoying moments as per Fred. Melissa’s character gets a big drama all her own which can be summed up as the lack of a marriage proposal from the father of her twin daughters, Francesco (Riccardo Scamarcio). Not to worry though, because Fred has something to say regarding this sensitive issue as well.
Maïwenn is able to interlock this wide spectrum of personalities by uniting the characters under the umbrella of a sacred common purpose: saving the children.
“Polisse” follows a fast-paced rhythm that communicates a sense of urgency in resolving the cases to either prevent the minors from being exposed to irreparable harm or to expedite the healing process if their safety has already been broken. Maïwenn astutely includes a number of cases where the minors in question do not even realize that they were involved in wrongful situations, whether they were victimized or had partaken in unacceptable activities of their own accord with very little discretion.
A recurring theme running throughout the film, and primordial to the filmmaker herself, is the importance that the Brigade attaches to the perpetrators showing repentance and asking their victims for forgiveness.
The actors, leading and supporting, deliver exceptionally dynamic and strong performances fuelled no doubt by a fervid Maïwenn but also clearly acting off one another. In some scenes involving the team in its entirety, the vibe is nothing short of electrifying.
Polisse recalls the popular genre of crime-investigation-typed television shows and runs somewhat similar to them. It is not void of a number of self-indulgent moments, particularly those involving Melissa’s character, an overt stand-in for Maïwenn’s own presence within the real BPM while she was in the research stages of her film.
Nevertheless, the film is gritty to frankly disturbing levels, in a form that no regular televised show would dare to present itself. The ensemble cast is natural, lively and truthful. The balance of personal stories and criminal cases is perfected.
Foremost in the film’s achievements is Maïwenn’s capacity to show the connection that instills itself time and again between the cops and the children, the former often being placed in situations of parental simulation with all the implications of ups and downs. The Brigade cries with the little boy whose mother must leave him behind at the station because she can no longer take care of him. They laugh to tears when they hear about a teenage girl’s idea of a fair trade for her stolen cell phone back. They celebrate when a rescued baby is declared out of danger after some tense suspenseful hours during which they await the hospital’s prognosis. As such links go multiplying; the spectator has little choice but to fall for these imperfect individuals with their frustrations, their weaknesses and their heartfelt greatness.
Alain Attal, responsible for several recent successes in French cinema (“Ne Le Dis à Personne”; “Les Petits Mouchoirs”) produces, delivering another popular hit movie among critics and audiences alike.
“Polisse” is not a movie for everyone. It is not about an imaginary problem or dilemma self-contained within the parameters of the silver screen that can be resolved in cathartic heaven. If the cops of the BPM are able to pick up the pieces of their lives, the children’s plights are disturbingly ongoing with no end in sight. Maïwenn’s film requires knowing that there is a shocking sordid reality out there but that we can learn to deal with it and help what we can of it. With that in mind, “Polisse” is a strong emotionally rich film that will keep you pegged to your seats to the very last moment.