This is one of the most frustrating movies I can recall seeing. Everything about it should be terrible, and at times it is really bad. Yet most of the movie is compelling in spite of itself. It’s almost worth a recommendation just to see how messy it is. Some of the formless style steers the film toward gripping drama, other times the lack of structure will create a moment of pure idiocy. It’s not a see-saw of good and bad rather an amorphous blob pop-marked with one too many unseemly blemishes.
Polisse (that’s not French, just an intentional misspelling), last year’s Jury Prize winner at Cannes, follows a group of French officers in the Child Protection Unit. They deal with cases of physical abuse, kidnapping, and all kinds of sexual misconduct. Instantly the film is made powerful based solely on subject matter. But the film is pretty much story free. There is no big case, no major event, and no main character. It’s just a snapshot of the different cases the CPU deals with (a card at the beginning informs us the movie is based on real police files), and then another snapshot of the toll the work takes on each cop’s personal life.
Even then, the movie doesn’t dig that deep. One officer is dealing with divorce, another with bulimia. Before any lasting impression is made with this information, the movie just skips on over to another scene. I honestly had no idea what any character’s name was until about 3/4 into the movie, and not because I’m bad with names. Then at some point the writer/director and French sensation Maiwenn shoehorns herself into the movie as a photographer documenting the CPU. She barely speaks and does nothing but hover. Right when you think maybe she’s going for some kind of artistic commentary with her pointless presence, a half-assed romance springs up between her and the officer the film eventually focuses on most, Fred (played by French rapper Joeystarr).
There is an idea here. A kernel of something about how one copes with the darkest side of humanity. At times it actually feels like the movie is exploring this thought, sometimes with deflating humor, and sometimes with operatic drama. The most wrenching scene involves a screaming child and Fred doing his best to calm him without letting it become personal. Then there’s the strange disco interlude where the whole crew takes 5 minutes to reenact the opening of Boogie Nights. The cast is strong across the board but with a style so fleeting there’s little impact to be had.
Pretentious and shapeless as it can be, the movie held my interest, barely. Perhaps it’s because I was curious to know when an actual plot would arrive, or maybe the backbone of a crime drama was dramatic enough. It’s hard to say. One thing that is clear is that the ending is perhaps one of the most ill-conceived things I’ve ever seen on film. It’s a risible moment of profound stupidity. It’s not necessarily what happens that makes the ending terrible, but the fact that there has been no connective tissue or logical drive dictating such a moment. It’s the direct result of having no beginning, and no middle, so you have to force an end.