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A tough docudrama-style cop story nearly makes it to the finishing line but trips too soon in Poliss (Polisse). This patchily impressive film is all the more frustrating because when it is good it posi- tively crackles, while the less successful passages are self-indulgent and sometimes borderline superfluous. An ensemble piece by actor-director Maiwenn

— who scored a domestic hit with The Actress’ Ball (2009) — boasts a superb cast and offers a some- times steely and informative look at the activities of the Paris police’s Juvenile Protection Unit. Based, as the opening title states, on actual JPU cases, the film bears the marks of serious research. But Maiwenn is often too taken with her char-

acters’ off-duty lives — and, ruinously, with the rather marginal character she herself plays — to truly fulfil the film’s initial promise of casting light on the everyday business of child protection. Even so, at its best the film has a vitality and

approachability which should make it a passably saleable prospect. It should flourish in France, where it is released in October, not least thanks to an illustrious cast. Abroad, its profile should be aided by superficial affinities to recent, very dif- ferent successes A Prophet (which generally boosted the cachet of the realist French policier) and Laurent Cantet’s The Class, with which it shares its loose structure and quasi-documentary, behind-the-scenes feel.

n 16 Screen International at the Cannes Film FestivalMay 14, 2011

The film starts with an ironic title sequence set COMPETITION

Fr. 2011. 127mins Director Maiwenn Production company Les Productions du Trésor International sales Wild Bunch, French distributor Mars Distribution Screenplay Maiwenn, Emmanuelle Bercot Producer Alain Attal Cinematography Pierre Aim Editors Laure Gardette, Yann Dedet Production designer Nicolas de Boiscuillé Music Stephen Warbeck Main cast Karin Viard, Joey Starr, Marina Fois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Karole Rocher, Frédéric Pierrot

to a bouncy song suggesting that children live “in paradise”. The truth, we discover, is rather differ- ent, as the JPU officers work through a succession of cases involving, variously, abusive parents and grandparents; Romany children in pickpocket rings; and homeless immigrants begging the JPU to take their children away and give them shelter. The film is punctuated by a series of seemingly semi-improvised scenes in which officers either grill adults suspected of abuse, or try more subtly — but sometimes awkwardly — to winkle the truth out of nervous children. Punchily shot in naturalistic style by Pierre

Aim, this film has a largely non-linear, fragmen- tary structure which introduces us by and by to a sprawling cast. Among the cops are Nadine (Viard) whose colleague, Iris (Fois), is helping her through divorce storms; the volatile Fred (rapper- turned-actor Starr), whose own marriage prob- lems see him temporarily staying with his long-suffering but affable unit head (Pierrot); and work partners Mathieu (Duvauchelle) and Chrys (Rocher), who have a simmering but unstated fondness for each other. Also thrown awkwardly into the mix is Melissa

(played by the director herself ), a photographer assigned to the unit for an official project, and whose outsider-looking-in status appears to repre- sent the director’s own research into her subject. The initially comic, gawky Melissa becomes an increasingly sore-thumb presence, and preoccu- pies the director to a degree which seriously dis- tracts from the film’s ostensible theme — especially when she sparks romantically with Fred.

More interesting than the familiar procedural

business of raids and strategy meetings is the underdeveloped hard core of the film, which deals with the team’s intervention in family dramas and dealings with suspected paedophiles and abusers. These are the most provocative and troubling scenes, with Karin Viard and Marina Fois excel- ling in particular. There are also tantalisingly spare cameos by Sandrine Kiberlain and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing as parents in a family case, the latter memorably slimy as a defiant suspect. Some of the interrogation scenes edge the film

into risky and troubling territory, into which Mai- wenn and co-writer Emmanuelle Bercot (who also appears) never finally delve as challengingly as they might. There is some eyebrow-raising comic material, too, notably the scenes in which teenag- ers under the team’s protection insist they are per- fectly capable of running their own precocious lives, thank you very much. But there are a few too many scenes of the team

bonding off duty, which suggest Maiwenn got carried away by the pleasure of working with such a tight-knit ensemble. She is undeniably a very strong director of actors, especially when it comes to the delicate scenes involving the various children. She is less adept, though, at judging what is dramatically essential and what is surplus to requirements, and an abrupt and incongruous ending disastrously blows the credit of what has up until then been, flaws notwithstanding, a pretty arresting effort.


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