When I watched “Polisse” a few years ago, it took me a long time to get it out of my head. The story centres on a group of French police officers working in a child protection unit and shows how their work affects them psychologically. Admittedly, the film’s content is very hard-hitting, but if you think you can stomach it, “Polisse” is riveting. I think one of the reasons the film stays with you is its “mockumentary” style. You feel you are watching a documentary and that these men, women, and children are real. This is because the director herself actually spent a long time in a child protection unit and everything in the film is inspired by what she either saw or heard whilst she was there. The title “polisse” is how Maïwenn, the director, imagined a child might write the word “police”. It’s a nice touch and highlights the vulnerability and naivety of children who are abused by the adults who are meant to look after them.
It’s true that there are shocking cases of child abuse throughout the film (which will leave you aghast), but the actual focus of the film is the impact the work has on the police officers’ personal lives. Having a happy relationship with your significant other is not easy when you encounter such horror every day at work. In the beginning we see Nadine being advised by her colleague Iris to divorce her husband, when in fact her own relationship with her boyfriend is no better. Iris and her husband are unable to conceive due to Iris’ anorexia. She shows extreme dedication to her work, but it’s obvious the stress of the job has got to her and she has stopped taking care of herself. When her secret exposed by her boyfriend, Iris gives him his marching orders, effectively choosing her job over her relationship. The males in the story also experience marital problems: in a scene (that is actually quite humorous in some ways), Baloo (the leader of the unit) has an argument with his wife after she says that her job as the director of crèche in a wealthy arrondissement in Paris is equally as stressful as his.
What I enjoyed the most is how the story unfolds. We see the police officers interviewing one adult after the next, almost all of which have been accused of abhorrent crimes against children, without knowing the judicial outcome. This is typical of a day in a child police unit: it is not their role to judge but to collect the facts. The language the police officers use whilst doing so might shock you, but this is the brutal reality of their profession.
This all being said though, I can assure you that the film is not all doom and gloom: there are some tender moments, like the ones between Fred ( played by Joeystarr) and Melissa ( played by Maïwenn). The rapper Joeystarr (who is very well known to the French public!) gives an extremely convincing portrayal of a man who has given himself a hard exterior to deal with the rigors of his profession. Melissa manages to chip away his impenetrable shell: showing us that Fred is actually quite a sweet and sensitive man. The team don’t always agree on everything, but we can see that they are in reality quite a tight-knit group: they enjoy nights out with each other even after spending hours together doing such a stressful profession.
If you are looking for a film that will knock the wind out of you, then I urge you to watch this. It did not leave me for weeks and left me wanting to watch more of Maïwenn’s films.