Ever imagined how The Wire would be in French, with the focus shifted from drug abuse to child abuse?
Me neither, but humour me for a moment.
Polisse, which focuses on the daily travails of the Child Protection Unit (CPU) in Paris, serves up just that. The award-laden film makes its way into UK cinemas this week, and those awards didn’t come easy.
Right from the beginning, we’re plunged into a harrowing scene involving the police interview of a doe-eyed little girl. The moment she reluctantly confesses her father sometimes touches her under her pyjamas, the unflinching tone of the whole movie is set. We are spared the inevitable, mawkish, electric piano scored sentimentality which our transatlantic cousins might have drizzled over such unpalatable material.
Unless of course it was set in Baltimore and written by David Simon.
Yes, parallels with The Wire are immediate; scenes of grittily authentic police procedures are punctuated by the domestic troubles and bureaucratic battles the team additionally encounters on a daily basis.
The film however retains an identity all of its own thanks to a thoroughly researched script by Emmanuelle Bercot and director Maïwenn, who I last saw on the big screen fleeing an axe murderer through a forest.
But that’s another story.
Peppered amidst the tales of abusive parents, teen pickpockets, underage sex and other such cheery subjects are some heated debates on Sarkozy’s policies served up with lashings of good old fashioned European promiscuity.
Apart from an ill-judged nightclub scene midway through, Polisse never strikes a false note. It says a lot for the Gallic sense of camaraderie that the CPU can be seen wildly yelling and gesticulating at each other one minute, and heartily performing an ensemble dance routine the next.
Vive la difference.
The cast is also impeccable, particularly the children who, you can be forgiven for quite easily forgetting, are actually acting. The adult cast all convince as street-hardened police officers too, with Marina Foïs as the strong but internally troubled Iris, and hip-hop star turned actor Joeystarr – yes, it is all one word – as the archetypal authority defying member of the team the stand out performers.
Polisse resists the usual temptation that befalls most ensemble casts by not connecting the story strands, à la Short Cuts or Traffic. There is no plot threading disparate characters together here, instead we have a group of characters threading disparate plots together; with the only real continuity is provided in a romantic arc between Maïwenn’s photojournalist and Joeystarr’s aforementioned hothead.
My sole gripe really is with the slightly bizarre ending, which seems intended to conclude events in the most dramatic way possible.
With that in mind, I can’t help but feel Polisse would have made for a better mini-series rather than film. What’s undeniable though is the material here packs a punch that will smart long after the closing credits roll.