Neely Swanson

“Polisse” – Police [MOVIE REVIEW]

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“The BPM team questioning a suspect in a djellaba” with Arnaud Henriet as “Bamako”, Jérémie Elkaïm as “Gabriel”, Nicoals Duvauchelle “Mathieu”, and Joeystarr as “Fred” in POLISSE, directed by Maïwenn. Copyright Les Productions du Trésor. A Sundance Selects release

Seeing a television documentary on the Child Protection Unit of the French police set former actress, now accomplished director Maïwenn on the path to her next film. After shadowing one of the Parisian divisions, she had her story and the next step was collaborating with Emmanuelle Bercot on the screenplay. Based on incidents she witnessed and stories she heard from the officers she befriended, Maïwenn weaves a tale of camaraderie in the face of horrific crimes. The police officers she met and the ones portrayed on screen are highly skilled, passionate, caring individuals who, like so many who deal with unspeakable acts, find dark humor in everything they do. Watch especially for a dark yet hilarious scene where a young teenage girl blandly describes what she had to do to get her cell phone back.

Nadine, Fred, Iris, Mathieu, Chrys and Balloo work the Belleville CPU district in Paris, a lower/lower middle class melting pot of immigrants, Christians, Jews and Muslims, with a smattering of upper class power brokers. Faced with protecting minors from the crimes committed against them, even when committed by other minors, the unit is always on an uphill journey made even more difficult by the power plays they face from the other units on the force and the chief who always has his eye on the politically expedient thing to do.

The Child Protection Unit is cohesive, always working to make the streets safer. Maïwenn gives us an intimate look at each member of that unit and how he and she fits into the intense world of the job and the private world of his or her personal life. It becomes clear fairly soon that the job takes precedence over everything else.

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Nadine, under the influence of the rigid, judgmental and fiercely feminist Iris, leaves her husband and children after he cheats on her, despite the irony that she, too, had cheated on him. More dependent on Iris’s approval than that of her family, Nadine makes one mistake after another. Iris herself is a psychological wreck, secretly bulimic and distant from her husband. Fred, the most passionate of the group, takes it personally when any of the suspects receives preferential treatment or slips through the cracks. Mathieu, perhaps the most reserved and professionally competent of the group, never allows his personal demons or his secret love for one of his co-workers to interfere with what he has to do. Although most have families and home lives, nothing comes close to the intimacy they all share at work. As the frustrated wife of one of the members of the unit mentions when trying unsuccessfully to discuss her work at a child care center, “They have incest in the 16th arrondisement [the wealthiest district] too!” But she, like the other spouses, is an outsider, never trusted to understand.

Supremely and superbly character-driven, this film is a throwback to many of the best police dramas of the past. In tone and action it is reminiscent of films like “The New Centurions,” “The Choir Boys” and “The Glitter Dome,” films based on novels by Joseph Wambaugh. It is an even higher compliment to compare this work to that of three of the best television police dramas of the past, “Hill Street Blues,” “NYPD Blue” and “The Wire,” shows that were more about the intensity of relationships than about the crime. Maïwenn has successfully depicted the characters’ inextricable bond to one another and makes us feel their pain, anxiety, joy and raucous off-hours wilding.

Leading the cast as Nadine is Karin Viard, an extremely versatile actress in both comedy and drama whose sad eyes and skewed mouth declare her indecisiveness. Nicholas Duvauchelle (Mathieu) reflects the icy hardness necessary when interrogating suspects that is offset by softness in his asymmetrical mouth signifying the agony of the effect of the crimes on his psyche. Joeystarr, as Fred, is what the French would call a “jolie laide.” His pockmarked face, outsized nose and eyes would work well in horror if not for the giant heart he wears on his sleeve and the passion he conveys with every movement.

Difficult to adequately describe, this is a film that must be seen to fully appreciate the experience of entering the close knit world of these interesting, vulnerable souls who take on the job of guarding the unprotected, often leaving themselves unguarded and susceptible to their own crimes of the heart.

Opening May 18. Neely also writes a blog about writers in television and film at



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