Following the daily life of a child protection unit of the Parisian police, Polisse has run the gamut of critical and audience reception since it was first unveiled at Cannes in its 2011 competition. It's not hard to see why: this third feature from iconoclastic actress and director Maïwenn (the eldest sister of actress Isild le Besco and a rather divisive figure in her own right) is basically a TV cop show extended to feature film length and transplanted to the streets of Paris.

     But therein lie Polisse's strengths and weaknesses, making it a more intriguing project that such a description might suggest. Its episodic structure, extending over a number of months of cases and experiences of the detectives assigned to the unit, is standard TV season fodder, but it somehow never feels lost on the big screen, thanks to Maïwenn's attention to her actors and their interplay as an ensemble. At the same time, the predictability of the narrative and character arcs prevent the viewer from fully engaging with them (except in the occasional moment) and can reduce their personal stories to cheap melodrama, despite the winning commitment and boundless energy of the ensemble cast.

     Ironically, the director herself is sadly the worst offender in that respect: her character in the film, a bourgeois photographer parachuted into the squad to make a photographic report, designed as a surrogate of the viewer to help ease him in into this obsessively self-contained world, is so lazily presented and drawn and its arc is so predictably plotted that it becomes cumbersome and pointless, detracting from Polisse's truly good aspects. These are the portrait of the daily dynamics of this most difficult of police jobs, depicted without undue glamour, exploitation or exaggeration - and it's precisely when she chooses to focus on the humanity of these people that the film soars above its TV procedural structure. Making it even more interesting that Maïwenn is not so much interested in the children as she is in the people who work these jobs - and people who, in some ways, may not be that different from the children they work with.

Karin Viard, Joeystarr, Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Karole Rocher, Emmanuelle Bercot, Frédéric Pierrot, Arnaud Henriet, Naidra Ayadi, Jérémie Elkaïm, Maïwenn.
     Director, Maïwenn; writers, Maïwenn, Ms. Bercot; cinematography, Pierre Aïm (colour, processing by LTC); music, Stephen Warbeck; production designer, Nicolas de Boiscuille; costume designer, Marité Coutard; editors, Laure Gardette, Yann Dedet; producer, Alain Attal (Les Productions du Trésor, ARTE France Cinéma, Mars Films, Chaocorp, Shortcom), France, 2011, 127 minutes.
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), January 17th 2012.



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