“Polisse” Is French
Special Victims Unit
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
A few years ago I sat in a tiny New York bistro with then-executive director Matthew Penn and watched the filming of an episode of TV’s “Law & Order.” The police procedural details were accurate, but the human drama was foremost.
That’s true of a French film titled “Polisse,” winner of the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for 13 César Awards. Following intertwined cases of the Child Protection Unit of the Parisian police, it will remind you of a French “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
This cop team faces traumatizing cases of child endangerment and exploitation, assignments that take a toll on their personal lives. Third-time director Maïwenn Le Besco also wrote this gritty look at a Paris tourists never see. What’s more, she stars as one of the cops.
This energetic docudrama has a fine ensemble cast. Karin Viard (“Haut les coeurs!”), Marina Foïs (“22 Bullets”), Nicolas Duvauchelle (“You Better Be Good to Me”), Emmanuelle Bercot (“Right Now”), and Frédéric Pierrot (“Tell Me I'm Dreaming”), among others. Rapper-actor Joeystarr (“Le Bal des actrices”) is particularly impressive as a hotheaded, idealistic cop who doesn’t like what he sees.
The story is one that’s uncomfortable at times, with its theme of crimes against children. Much of it is seen through the lens of a photographer assigned to cover the unit.
Director Maïwenn (she dropped the use of her last name in a dispute with her actor parents) says she got the idea for “Polisse” while watching a documentary about the Child Protection Unit on TV. So she got permission to join the police for ride-alongs. All the cases in the movie are based on what she witnessed riding with the unit, or on older cases they told her about.
Filmed in the streets of Paris, “Polisse” has more in common with “Law & Order” than it would like to admit.