What to Read Next

Adams on Reel Women: Maiwenn pulls no punches in ‘Polisse’

Thelma Adams
The Reel Breakdown
May 29, 2012

"Americans want the French with baguettes and berets," the actress-writer-director Julie Delpy ("Before Sunrise") told me last month, "The way French people handle sexuality is too controversial for American audiences." That remark resonated when I watched actress-writer-director Maiwenn submerge herself in the sordid world of the Paris Child Protection Unit. Maiwenn's ripped-from-the-headlines drama, "Polisse" — a movie that won last year's jury prize at Cannes — should appeal to anyone needing a "Law & Order" fix. Call it "Paris: SVU."

[Related: Indie Roundup: 'Intouchables' and 'Polisse']

Maiwenn plays a supporting role in the ensemble as Melissa, a disaffected upper-class photographer ("I only eat organic") and mother who becomes intoxicated by the police unit's urgency. As the officers under her lens confront pedophilia, rape, and child abuse in ethnically diverse Belleville, Melissa loses her objective distance, drawn to an angry but righteous cop named Fred (Joey Starr), who has a wife and kid at home.


Like "Law & Order: SVU," the movie shifts between the domestic disturbances in the officers' private lives and the domestic abuse the police confront on a daily basis — and how this screws with their heads. The cases overlap as if they were a season of the TV series compressed into one night: A junkie mother steals back her own baby, another uses sexual methods to put her infant boy to sleep, a grandfather pets his granddaughter's "kitty cat," and a male gym teacher instructs a young pupil in a different form of calisthenics in the dubious privacy of a bathroom stall.

One featured subplot follows the fractured work "marriage" of two partners, Nadine (Karin Viard) and Iris (Marina Fois). Nadine deals with her divorce at home; Iris tries to get pregnant while hiding bulimia. Meanwhile, on the job, their daily intimacy coping with unspeakable cases like that of a rape victim's partial birth abortion of an unwanted fetus shows signs of strain. When their relationship finally implodes, the women sling intimate secrets along with work grievances as their colleagues try to separate them. The confrontation scene is unsparing: Women have their own ways to be crueler than a simple punch in the nose.

[Related: Adams on Reel Women: The Cannes Sex Scandal]

While Maiwenn pays significant attention to the inner lives of the policewomen, they exist within an ensemble where the bosses are male and equally oppressed by the human condition. This is no chick flick. The focus rests on women and men, some flawed, some sick, some smugly evil. And, perhaps, it's that unspoken parity that makes "Polisse" more radical as a whole than, say, in an overt, telegraphing scene when an irate female police officer has a screaming fight with her male colleagues and yells, "A woman speaks out, and she's a radical. F**k you!"

Using an existing form historically dominated by male storytellers, Maiwenn achieves a rich, challenging crime drama by dramatizing the storylines of men and women with equal urgency. By its very nature, the Paris CPU combines nurturing and policing — it has cops with a maternal side, treating the abused women and children of Belleville. And, having seen the absolute worst in people among Parisians, these officers look to each other to find the best. Sometimes, they even succeed.

See the trailer for 'Polisse':

Military Mortgage Rates In 2016

Rates as Low as 2.75% (3.028% APR) 15 Year Fixed. Exclusive For Veteran & Military Takes 1 Min!

Insane Navy Seal Flashlight, should it be banned?

The Military has recently released technology that is now available to the public. Get yours before they run out - Limited Supply!

Buying Medigap Plan F? Read This First

Plan F is the most popular Medicare Supplement plan option, but there's another plan you should consider.

Starwood Credit Card

Earn 25,000 Bonus Starpoints®! Use toward Award Nights or Flights.

How Older Men Tighten Their Skin

Men, reduce the look of wrinkles, sagging skin and fine lines with this affordable and effective skin tightening treatment without leaving your home.

VA Mortgage Rates In 2016

VA Rates as Low as 2.75% (3.028% APR) 15 Year Fixed. Exclusive For Veteran & Military Takes 1 Min!

Banks Are Worried Homeowners Will Do This.

Homeowners are surprised and furious. If you owe less than $625,000 on your home, you better read this.

Missed Open Enrollment? You can still buy Medigap!

The Medicare Open Enrollment Period isn't the only time to buy Medigap coverage. You can actually buy at any time of the year.

What Are The Pros & Cons Of A Reverse Mortgage?

More Americans are accessing their home equity to support their retirement years. Speak with a professional and see what you may qualify for today.

Toddler tantrum email series for moms

We get it. We’ve been there. Sign up for our email track for advice on how to handle different situations that may arise with your little one.

$200 Tactical Flashlight Surplus Dumped

Highly anticipated LumiTact G700 Tactical Flashlight Overrun - Now available to civilian population

Switch and save!

Switch to Progressive and you could save an average of $548.

Is your insurance comp Laughing Behind Your Back?

New Studies Show that if you drive less than 55 miles a day you can save a ton on auto insurance.

Kid sleep troubles email series for moms

We get it. We’ve been there. Sign up for our email track to learn how to handle kids who won’t go to sleep or won’t stay in bed.