Polisse 2011 ★★★★

Based on real cases, POLISSE follows the actions and experiences of members of the Child Protection Unit in the Parisian police force. Awarded the 'Jury Prize' at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, POLISSE merges documentary-like realism with a fragmented narrative akin to an art-house sensibility.

Instead of being a case by case procedural, the film purposely thwarts our knowledge of the children who fall victim to abuse or the conclusive guilt of the accused adults. Instead, the film breathlessly shifts the focus onto the members of the 'CPU' and spreads a broad canvass to give us glimpses into their lives on and off the job. Perhaps unsurprisingly due to the difficult job they do, we witness the camaraderie and commitment to one another each of the 'CPU' officers have. We see how they let off steam and the challenges each of them faces in trying to lead a 'normal' life away from the office.

Audience expectation is also tested by the film's graphic dialogue which is surprisingly often played for gallows humour not dissimilar to that which you might find in a hospital ward. A genuinely laugh out loud moment, despite the horrendous circumstances, occurs during the interview of a teenage girl who has subjected herself to abuse for the sake of her smartphone. However, POLISSE also plays it serious and on more than one occasion I found this film incredibly hard to take due to the raw human emotion it encaptures in a couple of scenes.

The acting is universally superb with Karin Viard as Nadine demonstrating impressive emotional range plus killer comedic timing and Marina Fois brings conviction to the psychologically haranged Iris. However, Joey Starr (reportedly known to child protection agencies in his own life) as Fred is the film's real stand out. Flawed, vulnerable and personally invested in every case he brings power and pathos to every scene. Perhaps less successful is his on-screen romance with photographer Melissa (played by director and co-writer Maiwenn) which seems fleeting and under developed: an issue one could level at the film itself in places.

The Count's Verdict: Dramatically gripping and darkly comic, POLISSE manages to pull you into the lives of a band of people struggling to cope with the grim realities of child protection whilst never taking the easy route of treating the material in a sensationalist manner. Still be warned, there are a couple scenes which are very difficult to sit through and you may find yourself wishing for more conventional resolution in order to move on.

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