Polisse follows the daily lives of the agents within a Parisien Child Protection Unit. The film is made up of a vast array of snippets of stories from the CPU, based on real life cases. These are dealt with as a series of vignettes interspersed in the story of the tight-knit group of dedicated men and women in the unit. We never see more than a part or parts of individual cases; never know the outcomes of the investigations.
Polisse is French realism at its best: compelling, dramatic, authentic, gritty, textured and very moving. It conveys a real sense of what it must be like to work in units like the CPU: under-resourced, highly pressured, rewarding, and, at times, morally conflicting. We see the very human face behind police and welfare units like this one.
There are heartbreaking moments, like when a homeless mother leaves her son with the CPU, as no hostel can accommodate them both and she doesn’t want him living on the streets. The young boy’s screams pierce to the core of the officers and to ours as audience.
The intense reaction of Fred, the 2IC, is equally as moving and we realize many of these agents have probably chosen this tough job for personal reasons. We never know these, but that Fred is deeply affected by this young boy’s pain is enough for this story. Most of the team members have baggage.
I was moved to tears in another scene where a young girl gives birth to a stillborn and wants a moment alone with the baby. She’s then made to, despite her protests, name the dead baby, which is the result of a rape.
These stories sound grisly and whilst the subject matter and much of what they are dealing with is horrific, there is something, at times quite reassuring and heartwarming, about the film. The team is so dedicated, each member trying his or her utmost against the challenging circumstances of society and the bureaucracy, often at enormous personal expense. All the officers are passionate about their work, and we are privy to the effects such a vocation has on their personal life. They are not always heroes and there are times when it’s questionable that they are taking the right action.
There are scenes that will make you furious, disenchanted, broken-hearted, exactly what the CPU officers must feel. But there are also moments of great humour and tenderness, thanks to the camaraderie and passion of the team. While there is a tight bond between many of the partners, in some cases, the stresses of the job drive a bitter wedge between these partnerships.
The film is also sprinkled with other pertinent observations about society, like the often reckless exposure to sex of young people today and the risky blaze attitude this causes: the “suck, fuck and live”, credo as cited by one young girl. With careless media and paedophilic adults, breaching trust, providing corrupted role models, how can children navigate their way through and understand the sexual mores of today.
It takes a short moment to orient oneself and work out the messages from the fast moving, scene setting opening montage at the beginning of the film. But once you’re in, you’re in, and gripped throughout this whole rough and tumble journey. Polisse won the jury prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and its clear why. I too thoroughly recommend this film.
Polisse commences at Cinema Paradiso June 28th.