One can't deny the raw, no holds barred power of Maïwenn Le Besco's documentary-style drama, Poliss. The film delves into the work and personal consequences of the officers in the Parisian police force's Child Protection Unit. Actress and director Maïwenn Le Besco (a.k.a. Maïwenn) confounds expectations by drawing together a heart-thumping patchwork of dramas and emotions. Without significant star power it may require word of mouth and further festival exposure to help it grab attention stateside.
Laughter and tears come in equal measure as we follow a succession of suspects through the interrogation process. Conflicting testimonies from parents, children and relatives over the intimate details of their lives and proclivities are revealed and examined. The difficulty of discerning whose words we can trust proves a constantly disturbing question mark—why these people might be concealing their motives or experiences is another huge area of concern.
The most emotionally wrenching sequence involves an immigrant mother who can't provide her son with shelter and requests help from the police. Their efforts result in a home for him with another family. As she leaves him behind, his screams are haunting.
Maïwenn, who appears in Poliss as a photographer employed to make a pictorial record of the unit's work, does not shrink from showing scenes of hardship, or even allowing them to run long when other directors might have called "Cut!" She builds up a convincing picture of the camaraderie that exists between the officers who not only work together, but also socialize and know each other's families and problems. Such a close-knit atmosphere probably helps them cope with the stresses and strains of the job, which seem unbearable. Whether or not she prepares us for the devastating conclusion is debatable but as always she displays the courage of her convictions.
Maïwenn has assembled an astonishingly brave cast including French rapper Joyestarr and the redoubtable Karin Viard, whose character in the Police Unit works with every sort of violation, from teenage sex to pedophilia.
Poliss covers a lot of ground—almost too much for its own good—and its episodic structure might have worked better as a television series. The French have already acquired a reputation in the field for edgy detective shows. Their series Spiral is every bit as gritty and visceral as Poliss.
The title, by the way, comes from Maïwenn Le Besco's own son who misspelled the word. It also insures there would be no confusion with Maurice Pialat's 1985 drama, Police.
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Cast: Karin Viard, Joeystarr, Marina Fois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Karole Rocher, Emmanuelle Bercot, Frederic Pierrot, Arnaud Henriet, Naidra Ayadi, Jérémie Elkaim, Maïwenn Le Besco.
Director: Maïwenn Le Besco
Screenwriter: Maïwenn Le Besco, Emmanuelle Bercot
Producer: Alain Attal
Genre: Drama; French-language, subtitled
Running time: 127 min.
Release date: Unset