Based on real-life cases handled by a specialised squad dealing with the protection of minors in Paris, there's an almost ER-style feel to how Maïwenn directs this French police procedural that at times can be irritating and frustrating, but it's also perhaps necessary to draw together and give structure to the episodic incidents that occur during the period covered in the film. While you might quibble about some of the directorial choices however, in the end you really can't fail to be deeply shocked by the sordid nature of the paedophilia and child-abuse cases that are raised here, but also impressed by the dedication of the officers who have to deal with the incredible levels of tension and pressure that must come with dealing with these kind of activities on a daily basis. In that respect, Polisse - winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes 2011 - succeeds in its aims, and is guaranteed to make a powerful impression on anyone who views it.
Perhaps the least successful element is the director's own presence in the film. She plays a rich Parisian with influential friends who manage to get her an assignment shadowing the 'brigade de protection de mineurs' as a photographer. On the one hand, it's a necessary device that provides an outside eye view on the complex and delicate issues of law and procedure that come with dealing with these kind of cases, but her personal life, her relationship difficulties and her growing attachment to one of the officers (based on her real-life affair with Joeystarr) also proves to be an unwelcome distraction from the real issues that the film deals with. The personal lives of the close-knit squad, their methods of dealing with the exceptionally challenging nature of their work, the danger of bringing those pressures back home and the toll it takes on their personal and professional relationships also forms a large part of the make-up of the film and can tend to fall back on cliché, but it also proves to be a vital ingredient that you can't really do without either.
Where the film has to be judged a complete success is the way it puts across some very difficult and eye-opening episodes of a rather disturbing mature - inappropriate parental touching, sexual abuse, child prostitution, neglect, endangerment and abandonment are all covered in frank and explicit detail. You really wouldn't believe how many children, in just one district of Paris, are being subjected to such abuse, and when you extrapolate out to consider how prevalent it must be in other major metropolises it is a truly scary realisation. The tone may all over the place and sometimes of questionable taste (raising the question what the child performers made of such scenes) to the extent that you aren't sure if you really should be laughing at some of the rather shocking testimonies delivered straight-faced to the police officers - and you have to wonder at their reaction too - but in many ways it's probably a necessary release for the officers, and it's a necessary release from the unrelenting pace and tension of the film for the viewer also.
If some of the directorial choices and fluctuations in tone irritate, and the way the private lives of some of the police officers are treated is a little predictable and tedious, it all serves nonetheless to create a workable framework to get across a number of stories that are genuinely shocking and difficult to be witness to. What helps you relate to what you are watching however ultimately comes down to a few remarkable acting performances. French bad-boy rapper Joeystarr is a bit of a revelation as Fred and Marina Foïs is compelling as the girl most likely to crack, but it was Karin Viard who impressed me most. I was unconvinced about her casting here until one explosive scene (you'll know the one I mean when you see it), semi-improvised surely, where she is utterly real and living the role, reminding you about the real human cost to those involved in this work. Essentially, that's what's important, that's what Polisse is all about, and that's what stays with you long after you've viewed this remarkable film.