By Anna Bielak | March 23, 2012
Director: Maïwenn Le Besco
Writers: Maïwenn Le Besco, Emmanuelle Bercot
Starring: Karin Viard, Joey Starr, Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Maïwenn Le Besco, Karole Rocher, Emmanuelle Bercot, Frédéric Pierrot, Arnaut Henriet, Sandrine Kiberlain
In the first scene of Polisse, a police officer working in the Parisian Child Protection Unit cross-examines Dolorès (Malonn Lévana). I remember Dolorès’ face from Celine Sciamma’s Tomboy (2011), in which she — as Jeanne — spreads the aura of uncommon eroticism suppressed by girlish innocence. In Sciamma’s film, her character is meant as a counterweight to her boyish sister who does not accept her blowing femininity. In Maïwenn Le Besco’s brilliantly directed Polisse, sexuality is nothing more than the obscure object of oppression.
The French artist (actress, model and director) focuses on observing pedophiles and talking with abused children; she analyzes relations among the unit’s workers and listens to various stories concerning them. The style of her filmmaking brings to my mind the pattern used by Laurent Cantet in his Oscar nominated Entre les murs (2008). The film is set mostly in one building; the dramas are hidden usually in nearly improvised dialogues. Sequences are filmed in an almost documentary style. However, the distance that is usually inscribed in the convention of docudrama has been overcome by the director as soon as she enters the arena of events as its hero. Maïwenn becomes the character Melissa – a shy photographer commissioned by the government to document the work of this unit.
Melissa is accompanied by the officers and slowly feels more comfortable in the group. Her photos gradually gain in naturalism as Maïwenn gently effaces the border between documentary and fiction. She tells a real story about fictionalized people. She prepares the intimate portraits of several police officers. She does it too quickly — maybe all that she is doing is a bit too messy — but nothing takes away from the intensity of emotions. Iris (Marina Fois) is an anorectic; Nadine (Karin Viard) is in the middle of a divorce; Chrys (Carole Rochter) is pregnant by a man she does not love anymore; and Fred (Joey Starr) and his wife are separated. The Child Protection Unit is the only place they feel accepted. Their jobs play a leading part in their lives; it is the thing that gives them everything they need – the sense of power, the belief in surprises, irritation and devotion mixed up for an everyday life cocktail.
Maïwenn Le Besco selects police cases with the purpose of gaining the effect of interest. During the officers-victims’ conversations, a sense of disbelief develops in what they experience and in what we hear. There is a mother in the police station who calms down her little boy by giving him regular blow-jobs. There is a teenage girl who has sex with her colleagues to get back her mobile phone. A forty-something father confesses that he fantasizes about his eight year old daughter during sexual intercourse with her mother. Every single statement like the ones mentioned above intensifies the tension. Stress appears in the group of police officers that could hardly be eased. You can scream, fight, party together, have affairs… Nothing helps. Romances, particularly, do not change a thing; because the sexuality in Polisse appears only in its most grotesque dimensions.
All the more interesting, Melissa converts from a shy girl who is full of complexities to a self-conscious woman who appreciates and understands her womanhood. At the beginning of the film, she is a bit hunched over — a quiet girl with her hair tied up and big glasses covering her face. Fred’s interest in her becomes a reason for Melissa’s slow transformation. Her sexuality, that was once hidden deep inside her, has now shown up on the surface. The fact that all of this happens in the world of pedophiles, officers and molested children deepens the conviction that eroticism and desire often do not appear in the best places and times for it. Melissa, who was once standing outside of the events as a photographer who should only observe, becomes the central point of everything that is going on around her. She is the one who filters the events with her own sensitivity. She is the one who tries to show us that there is a specific, unique beauty in the picture that seems to be ugly enough to not to be watched at all.
Go to Stopklatka.pl for the original Polish-language version of Anna’s review.