Winner of the Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival and nominated for 13 Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscar), "Polisse" hits Los Angeles and New York May 18 with strong acclaim and a powerful punch. Co-written and directed by Maiwenn, who also stars, "Polisse" packs a wealth of stellar performances by a terrific ensemble of actors, many recognizable to American audiences. It's also one of those police dramas that immediately grabs you and keeps you immersed in the law enforcement culture until the last frames.
From the opening title card that states "Polisse" is based on real-life cases of the Child Protection Unit (CPU) in Paris, viewers are thrust into CPU's world. In an intense documentary style, the film follows the day-to-day activities of this group, both inside and outside the office.
Beginning with the sensitive but thorough questioning of a young girl who may or may not have been victimized, the film continues to introduce the CPU unit through similar interrogations in other cases, which more often than not include the victim's parents, siblings, or family members.
The view into this unit is through a photographer named Melissa (Maiwenn), a demure, upper class, and bespectacled woman. Melissa tries to be unobtrusive as she documents the important work of this tight-knit group. Yet the intensity of the cases also creates a fierce dependency upon one another that transcends the bounds of a normal workplace.
The love/hate relationships, at times, between the co-workers pulls Melissa into their world. She ends up becoming more and more intertwined in their lives and cases, especially with sometimes-separated investigator Fred (Joey Starr).
In Los Angeles last month for the ColCoa French Film Festival, Maiwenn presented "Polisse" to a sold-out audience. The filmmaker/actress revealed that she was inspired by a documentary she saw on TV about the Parisian CPU. She explained that she contacted the documentarians, who then put her in touch with the CPU.
Maiwenn said she was granted permission to basically "intern" with the CPU, which included shadowing officers, taking notes, asking questions, and hearing about cases and their lives. Everything in the film, Maiwenn said, was based on stories she witnessed or stories the officers told her.
Maiwenn then spent nine months writing the script, which included soliciting the help of actress/writer Emmanuelle Bercot, who plays CPU officer Sue Ellen in the film. Many of the actors Maiwenn had in mind when writing the script, including rapper Joey Starr.
Like their director and costar, the actors became immersed in the culture of the CPU through workshops held with actual officers. Per the film's production notes, Maiwenn explained that the cast spent eight hours a day per week with the CPU officers, learning about their world and the work, and watching documentaries about various police cases and procedures. They also learned how to shoot a weapon, which is echoed in a scene when Melissa learns to shoot.
"Polisse" is impressive both in its handling of its subject matter and in Maiwenn's skillful direction of the large ensemble. The actors are so authentic that one loses sight that "Polisse" is a fictional film.
The depiction of the young victims, too, is tastefully handled. For some, a few scenes of gallows humor may seem off-putting, but the realism of coughing up laughs at an outrageous moment rings true. Maiwenn's talent is certainly one to watch in future films.
"Polisse" is 127 minutes, Not Rated, and opens in Los Angeles and New York May 18.
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