POLISSE, Starring Karin Viard, Joeystarr, Marina Fois, Nicolas Duvauchelle and Maïwenn, Karole Rocher. Directed by Maïwenn. 127 minutes. Rated MA 15+ (Strong sexual themes).

Karen Viard, Joey Starr, Marina Fois, Maiwenn, Frederic Pierrot.Directed by Maiwenn.

The police, polisse, of the title of this very interesting French drama, are the Child Protection Unit of Paris. The film is definitely interesting but it is also definitely grim. And, not just with the crimes and cases that this squad has to deal with, but with the toll that this work takes on the individuals (and the group).

It has the air of authenticity about it, with the streets of Paris, the police precincts, homes, schools and malls, because director and co-writer, Maiwenn, spent a lot of time with the actual personnel for experience and research. Maiwenn herself plays a professional photographer who is hired to photograph the individuals at work but also aspects of the vcitms and the perpetrators, a reminded that she has done her preparation work and knows what she is presenting on screen.

While the film begins and ends in sounds of children’s joy, it shows us a range of cases, some glimpsed, some explored in more detail, where children are abused and hurt, often within a home context. To make this point, the opening story is disturbing as the interviewers try to coax a description out of a very little girl about her father’s inappropriate behaviour. It tests how we respond to such cases, how we feel for the little girl, wondering how such questions can be best put and answered.

The members of the squad have to do a great deal of interviewing, and in rooms that are not always conducive to privacy or to the comfort of the person being questioned. In the opening sequence, the little girl is being spoken to by one person while another sits, visibly, at a desk behind the first one, indicating directions for the interview. These sequences make us wonder what training the squad members have undergone, how personalized and how (as we see more of their own lives and struggles) this has an effect on their work.

There are runaways, infants, a girl who led another into a basement to be gang raped, a shy boy visctim to his sports coach, a well-to-do home where the mother (subsequently interviewed and embarrassed by particularly invasive – but perhaps necessary – questions about her intimate life with her husband and how that might throw light on what her husband has done to his daughter. (This man boasts of his friends in high places and of how he won’t go to jail.) And several other cases.

We also get to know several of the members of the unit very well as individuals, while others remain part of the group, identifiable by their faces, but not central as a some of the others. There are close friendships and confidants which emotions can turn into enmities. There is a man angry at home who takes it out on the accused but who begins an affair with the photographer. There is a sequence where the unit spends the night searching for a drug addicted mother who has abducted her child. Another of a stake-out in a mall – which goes wrong and leads to a hostage and gunfire situation.

It’s really a docudrama, plenty of the equivalent of documentary material on how the Unit operates, plenty of drama, especially of the lives of the unit members – including a dramatic and disturbing shock just before the end.

Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes, 2011.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Curious Films.

Out June 28, 2012

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