Monday, May 14, 2012

Maïwenn's child-protection movie POLISSE brings home the bacon -- and a little ham....

When POLISSE, the new film from actress/
director Maïwenn, is good, it's very, very good. And when it's -- I won't go so far as to say "bad," just maybe -- not so good, rather than destroy itself, as some have claimed, the movie simply deflates a bit before gathering steam once again. This up and down structure does weaken what could have been a brilliant piece of cinema, but Polisse -- that tracks daily life, at work and at play, of the police officers of a Child Protection Unit in France -- is still very much worth a watch, if only for the jolting immediacy of its subject matter, as well as its starry French cast.

As director and co-writer (with the smart and talented Emmanuelle Bercot, of BackStage and Student Services), Maïwenn (shown at right) uses a similar documentary-like approach that she tried in her earlier and much more humorous film Le bal des actrices. It works almost as well here, allowing us to seem to eavesdrop on these police, at home and on the job, seeing them at their angriest and most vulnerable.

The poster, shown at top, with its intelligent and symbolic image, captures perfectly how well these police identify with the young victims who come into their care. This has its up and down sides, meaning that the officers will usually do everything they can to ensure safety for their charges, but also that they will sometimes go too far - or go to pieces when it turns out that they, no matter what, can do nothing to help.

This is the case in one of the film's strongest scenes, in which an abusive father with heavy-duty political connections (a nasty, scary Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, above, center) is brought in for questioning. His cowed wife (another brilliant job from Sandrine Kiberlain, above, left) tries her best, but nothing equals the power of money and position, as the film makes quite clear.

In the film's most powerful scene, cop Fred (the filmmaker's main squeeze and preferred co-star Joey Star) tries his best to keep an illegal immigrant mother and her son together. Machinations ensue; the cops will try anything to keep humanity ahead of cold justice, and Mr Starr proves himself more than able to keep up with his better-known acting comrades. For these moments alone, the movie is indelible.

A baby born out of rape, a drug-addicted mom (Sophie Cattani, adding yet another excellent turn to her resume of bad mothers), Marcial Di Fonzo Bo as a problemed phys. ed. teacher, and the "rescue" of a caravan of gypsy children (above) perhaps being made poor use of by their caretakers all add to the film's resonance and strength.

The police themselves are played by a string of France's foremost acting royalty, among them Karin Viard, Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Frédéric Pierrot (above, left, with co-writer Bercot, who does a fine acting job here, as well) and Jérémie Elkaïm. The give-and-take between officers -- particularly that of Viard (below, left center) and Fois (below, right) -- proves interesting and pointed, playing out eventually in ways powerful and unexpected.

The film's biggest problems arise in several scenes during which the cops are on playtime. We understand that these characters desperately need rest and relaxation, and that they have a hard time finding this or even indulging in it, once it's open to them. But in most of the scenes taking place off the job, it seems as if it is the actors -- not their characters -- who are having the fun and interacting so gleefully with each other. For a time this simply destroys whatever reality has accrued.

There is also, immediately after that rescue of the gypsy kids, a scene of everyone singing on a bus that seems utterly fake. Why this should be so, I don't know. Was the scene poorly prepared?  For whatever reason, it simply does not flow; instead it jolts. None of this kills our overall belief in the movie's message: that the pro-tection of children is paramount. But when Maïwenn learns to solve problems like these, she'll be on her way to even greater things.

Polisse, 127 minutes via Sundance Selects, opens this Friday, May 18, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles at The Landmark. Other cities and theaters are in the offing soon. Come May 25, the film will also be available via VOD. Click here to learn how you can get it in at home.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's really great, I think this Maiwenn's child protection movie Polisse brings a great example on how we can save children affected by disasters, exploitation, child trafficking and child labour. Keep up the good work!

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Anon. Although your comment seems a wholly self-serving plug for The Children's Society, I am hoping that your organisation is a worthwhile one. It certainly looks that way from a cursory view of its web site. So... you keep up the good work, too.