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Tribeca 2012: Polisse

The 2012 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 18th to April 29th. Jeff Hart and Jeremiah White are there and will be seeing a shitload of movies.

The massive cast of Polisse.

The French ensemble cop drama Polisse has more in common with a season of television than it does with feature films. Comparisons to shows like The Wire or, perhaps more aptly, Law and Order: SVU are inevitable. However, in terms of tone Polisse most closely resembles the gallows humor of the quickly canceled Dennis Leary cop dramedy The Job. That’s a good thing.

Writer/director Maiwenn (formerly Luc Besson’s 16 year-old baby mama, now on her 3rd feature film) also stars as a photographer documenting the day-to-day life of the Juvenile Protection Unit whose detectives deal exclusively with pedophiles and other child exploiters. She ends up in an affair with the Vic Mackey of French child services, played with intensity by Joeystarr (also in Tribeca action favorite Sleepless Night, once punched a monkey on national TV). Also on the squad is Karen Viard (who I enjoyed in last year’s My Piece of the Pie) as a detective who believes her partner might have manipulated her into getting a divorce. Plus, there are like a half dozen other good French actors. It’s a sprawling cast, one that’d be well suited to television drama, but is perhaps too big for the big screen.

The film is episodic; there’s no real overriding narrative arc, no big case to solve, no uber-pedophile to ultimately bust. It sprints from case to case, each of these disturbing incidents reflecting on the mental states of our team of cops. The police work is broken up by vignettes of the squad’s home life (as fractured as expected, in most cases) and light-hearted scenes of the group hanging out, joking, getting drunk – the kind of behavior one would expect in any office environment.

Those expecting Polisse to treat the subject of child molestation with unwavering sobriety should probably look elsewhere. The film focuses much more on the cops than it does the victims. In a scene that some critics have railed against as disgusting, the investigating officers laugh in the face of a tween who gave oral sex to a group of boys in order to retrieve a stolen cell phone. It’s definitely callous, but I’m not convinced Maiwenn intends for us to laugh along with the cops. We’re meant to see the detachment of the cops, at the expense of the victim’s pain. It’s this kind of laugh-to-keep-from-crying grimness that informs most of Polisse, and makes it feel all the more real than a show like SVU that’s simultaneously preachy and exploitative.

The size of the ensemble and the aimlessness of the script won’t endear Polisse to those looking for a straight forward narrative. It’s more like a collection of short stories, some of which definitely work better than others. Still, the film maintains a great energy and probes some dark areas in a very authentic way. It’s the best season of a cop show to ever get crammed into two hours.

VERDICT:  See it.

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