The daily grind for the cops of the Police Department's Juvenile
Protection Unit means knowing the
worst exists and living with it. Fred (Joey Starr), the group's hyper-sensitive wild card, is also having a hard time
facing the scrutiny of Melissa (Maïwenn Le Besco), a photographer on a Ministry of the
Interior assignment to document the unit.

A frenetic chronicle of the personal toll of policing.

Australian readers of a certain vintage will fondly recall Cop Shop, the hit 1970s soap-opera that explored the intermingled personal and professional lives of a photogenic cast, playing police officials in a suburban station. Maiwenn’s slick Polisse has much in common with this Australian TV institution, which is to say it is ripe with melodrama and spunkiness (more than say, wide ties, brown suits and balsa-wood sets).

When the film slows to take some breaths, it does so by exploring the home lives of the officers, and these are some of Polisse's best moments.

A chronicle of the dramatic cases investigated by a Child Protection Unit in contemporary Paris, the French pop-auteur’s camera captures the choreography of lives lived at a frenzied pace, driven by dedication to duty and more than a little unhinged ego. Viewers with a taste for prime-time procedurals will immediately draw comparisons to the verite stylings of shows like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and The Wire.

The language and detail is raw, as to be expected from a film that follows the investigation of crimes against children. Underage labour, poor living conditions, kidnapping and, most painfully, sexual deviancy, are all explored with an eye for by-the-book realism. That conviction to factuality, however, is undermined by some unusually florid acting by an ensemble cast that pitches its performances at the same frantic level as cinematographer Pierre Aïm’s hand-held camera.

Though each unit member gets to emote in the dramatic spotlight, the film’s two key protagonists are Fred (notorious French rapper, Joeystarr), a crusading hothead who clashes constantly with the politicised bureauracy of the Department; and Iris (Marina Fois), a hard-hearted pro who maintains a chilly distance from her cases and, increasingly, her partners. With affairs, pregnancies and meltdowns all part and parcel of the Unit’s daily grind, it all needs to be brought into focus"¦ and this function is awkwardly achieved through the plot-device placement of shy photo-journalist Melissa (the director, not very convincing in a showy part) into the group.

The film is episodic in structure and is driven by moment-to-moment brio. Like its small-screen contemporaries, cases are open and shut (or, more often, left uninvestigated) with a pace that I am quite certain sits at odds with real world policing. When the film slows to take some breaths, it does so by exploring the home lives of the officers, and these are some of Polisse's best moments.

Maiwenn finds a pulsating energy in her staging of conflict, both small-scale (a workplace clash of personalities; a family dinner gone bad) and grand (a shopping-mall shootout). But her melodramatic impulses rob the film of any particular profundity; a final slow-motion flourish, aesthetically at odds with all that has gone before it but captivatingly shot and edited, reveals the real inspiration behind the work - Polisse is a film not about police but about police films. It delivers in that regard, but its thin psychological component and attention-grabbing showiness deny it lasting importance.

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2 hours 7 min
In Cinemas 28 June 2012,