Maiwenn Le Besco (who prefers to be credited simply as ‘Maiwenn’) would look to a North-American movie-nerd as the definition of Parisian cool: she’s tall, skinny, with long wavy brown hair, smiling green eyes, and a contagious smile. She also says “quoi” a lot, which adds to her whole French-ness. Maiwenn has something about her that reminds you of Sofia Coppola. Sure, she’s a female director, but that’s not it. She radiates intelligence and a cool, collected calm. You wouldn’t think that she’s a big talker just by looking at her. Yet, after seeing her new film Polisse, you are convinced she has a lot to say.
Polisse (a childish spelling of ‘police’) has been one of the most talked-about features at the 17th edition of Montreal’s own Cinémania festival. It won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Festival and was received with a full house here on Friday, accompanied by Maiwenn herself. “For a woman director, after you win Cannes, the reaction is like ‘oh she must have slept with Robert De Niro’…not that I would have refused,” she says laughing during another Q&A at the Cinéma Impérial, where Cinémania takes place.
Polisse is based on Maiwenn’s experience of being on brigade at the Parisian Child Protection Unit. As she says, it’s a look on the most recurrent cases of child molestation, prostitution, abuse, nymphomania and other cases, which would render such a film into a heavy, indigestible drama. But she approaches the topic with just enough sense of humour to render it humane. “Police officers have to be able to laughsometimes about the stuff they deal with, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to move on from one heavy case to another,” she says. When a father accused of abusing his daughter is referred to as “a reverse Oedipus complex case,” you will laugh with your tongue in your cheek; it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but just enough to make watching the film easier.
With its naturalistic acting, crude language, and shaky, gritty camera-work, Polisse looks almost like a documentary about the CPU of Paris. With a cast lead by rapper Jooey Starr, Karin Viard, Marina Fois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Karole Rocher, Emmanuelle Bercot, and Frédéric Pierrot, the movie has been praised for its organic use of dialogue and improvisation. Maiwenn plays a photographer assigned to cover the unit, and in some ways she plays herself: a voyeur, the person with the camera, who tries to remain unnoticed, but ultimately creates tension within the group.
Polisse isn’t like another episode of The Wire. Yes, it deals with multiple police cases, but it also doesn’t show their resolution. We never find out what happens to a father accused of child molestation, who is also friends with the chief of police. We don’t know what happens to a bus full of kids that the police take away from their gypsy parents who use them to pickpocket and perform other criminal acts. The movie subtly moves on, just like police officers in real life must do if they want to remain sane.
By Radina Papukchieva
Follow me on twitter @Papukchieva