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December 3, 2012



by Franz Patrick

Polisse (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A little girl, about six years of age, tells one of the cops that her father “scratches” her “bottom” every night. In the other room, a grandfather is questioned about taking advantage of his granddaughter who’s within a few feet from him. Meanwhile, en route to the police station, a teenager is asked about her role involving the three guys she invited in the garage and the rape of her friend. These are all part of a day’s work in the Child Protection Unit of Paris Police.

“Polisse,” based on the screenplay by Maïwenn and Emmanuelle Bercot, explores the psychology of the cops within the unit by putting a magnifying glass on how they handle themselves when immersed in their assigned operations and how well they manage the stresses in their personal lives. The picture constructs an argument that it takes a great deal of effort to keep the two spheres separate. First, even if they are successful in putting the person, or persons, responsible in jail and closing a case, the deed is done and the underaged child or young adult has to deal with the trauma that comes with being abused. The cops are aware that it’s rare for survivors to move on with their lives unscathed. Second, although the cops are good at what they do, catching and taking all perpetrators to jail is close to impossible. Child abuse is a disease without a cure.

One of the film’s recurring themes is power struggle. Cases involving rape are the most obvious examples. However, notice the instances when the cops interact with one another, whether it be in the cafeteria during lunch hour or hanging out and playing games like charades. In heated conversations, sometimes turning into arguments, there always has to be someone who is told that they are wrong which implies that someone has to be right; in games, as the winning group celebrates in ecstasy, the losing group basks in quiet disappointment and frustration. Power struggle can also be observed in young people choosing to “exercise” their freedom. One of the most shocking examples is the girl who strips all of her clothing via webcam and broadcasts it online because she is told by her parent that her internet usage will soon be limited.

The realities the picture shows are scary and yet so unbelievable at times that there are moments when all I, as well as the characters, could do was laugh. The teenage girl who decides to give fellatio to random guys because she had wanted to get her phone back from them quickly comes to mind. And what about that mother who sees absolutely nothing wrong with giving her kid, who must be about four years old, a hand job to calm him at night so that she will not have to deal with his crying? The cops, aghast from the confession, tells her that what she has done is rape, leaving the mother looking very surprised, even offended. It turns out that her definition of rape is “penetration.”

The screenplay should be appreciated for not being afraid to get down on the ugly details. What may appear stupid or common sense to you and me is perhaps a shining revelation to others. In that sense, the picture informs, in a genuine manner, instead of just functioning as a reminder that the world is plagued with all sorts of sickness.

Directed by Maïwenn, “Polisse” is often an unrelenting experience. While it may be criticized for including scenes that ought be left on the cutting room floor about the characters as individuals and group of professionals, I admired it for the exactly that reason. None of the issues touched upon in the film is supposed to be neat or meant to be understood completely. By the end, we can actually feel the dirtiness of the job and appreciate those who continue to perform it.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 3 2012

    I’ve heard really good things about this film and your review is no exception. It does seem to be a very troubling subject however. Might be a difficult watch.

  2. Dec 3 2012

    What to say, Franz?

    Every frame of this movie vibrated with nuance in the search of these cops for a survival strategy in a world of indignity and evil. Seeing these characters desperately try to straddle the line between the cynicism necessary to do your job effectively and not get too emotionally attached to that never-ending stream of victims, and the glimmers of optimism and prayer that in the end what you do can make a difference, so necessary to get up every morning and do it all over again… This movie pummeled me, from beginning to end, and I wanted to understand more. About the hopelessness, the grey areas, how absurd office politics gets out of hand when you can never turn yourself off.

    For that, it will likely be my number one movie of the year.

    • Dec 9 2012

      It will most likely be on my list of the best movies of this year as well. I was so engaged that I lost track of time. Unfortunately, I feel that not many movies this year drew me in like that.

      I think “pummeled” is the correct word. My expectation was that the movie would focus on five or six cases at most where each police pair would be challenged by an assignment on a deeply personal way. I’m glad the screenplay did not approach it in such a way so that it wouldn’t feel “too TV.” I liked that more than half of the cases did not have a defined conclusion. I think to offer easy answers would have cheapened the material greatly. With those that were given answers, they were not always what I expected. But then again I didn’t know what to expect half the time.

  3. Dec 3 2012

    Wowzers, haven’t heard of this flick until now but between your review and queerlefty’s comment this thing just vaulted to the top of my to-see list. Great review, looks like a fantastic flick.


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  1. My Favorite Movies of 2012: “I need my head examined/I need my eyes excited” | Welcome To All That

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