There was a moment in Polisse when I was sitting there thinking, “this is downright disgusting.”
Polisse is a Competition film directed by Maiwenn.
The moment in question comes when a pre-teen girl is in the Child Protection Unit (CPU) ward of the Parisian Police, being questioned as to how she was involved in a rape scenario. Here’s a paraphrase:
“They stole my cellphone,” the girl says.
“And what did you do?”
“Well, they demanded I give a blowjob for it back. I felt I had to. So I did.”
Cue raucous laughter from the cops. (And from the audience, sadly.)
“Why would you do that?”
“It was an iPhone,” she whispers.
One cop quotes her, stifling a laugh. The others are pissing themselves. The girl is visibly shaken and upset. The CPU continues to mock her.
What is Polisse director Maiwenn trying to say about these cops? Why did my audience find this so funny?
On the one hand, you have portraits (see: archetypes) of members of the CPU, who are clearly dedicated to their jobs. You have the cop who flips tables and yells a lot; you have the know-it-all intellectual guy with the silver tongue; you have the funny cop, the quiet photographer, the push-over boss. Sigh.
The CPU deals with disturbing cases of rape, “rave” (love-rape), incest, molestations, etc. It takes guts to handle situations like that. When the hyper-realist Polisse showcases this commitment, it delivers a film that would work better as television, but still watchable on the big screen.
But when you realize that these CPU workers are actually pathetic people in their personal lives, it becomes incredibly difficult to like these heroes. I don’t believe we’re supposed to think they’re awful people, because a good majority of the film has them delivering justice or bringing down pedophiles. Kudos to that. But when they’re off-duty or (in many cases) overly emotional, their true sides come through. We see infidelity, violence, depression, and most common of all: pettiness.
Overall, I’m amazed more people in my screening didn’t clue in to how awful the CPU really is. Frankly, just because they’re stopping sex crimes doesn’t make them inherently good people. Most of them aren’t.