ONE CAN IMAGINE what a difficult life it is to be a police officer working in child protective services. The daily parade of cruelty, negligence, desperation, and stupidity would be nearly impossible to remain impervious to, and when one's own problems—divorce, eating disorders, loneliness—dovetail with a particularly gruesome day at the office, there might be some angry desk pounding, inappropriate laughter, or worse. Polisse, centered on one such unit in Paris, is specifically interested in these moments when stress manifests and temper or decorum is lost. It's just as you'd imagine it.
Co-writer and director Maïwenn also stars as Melissa, a photographer assigned to document the officers' unit. Shot in a plain, faux-documentary style with partially improvised dialogue, Polisse has an unpolished naturalism that doesn't always work in its favor; a more controlled approach might've eliminated stretches of boredom, and the trumped-up romance between Melissa and one of the cops could've benefited from a bit of sparkle. A multi-threaded plot juggles a spaghetti bowl of cases, from incestuous child molestation to a Romanian pickpocket camp, along with the assorted miseries of the officers assigned to deal with it. For all the variation, each plot thread leads to the same histrionics and overwrought drama.
We get it: Their job sucks, and sometimes causes breakdowns. But Maïwenn's film—researched by spending time with real-world officers working in these units—is so fixated on breakdowns that the portrait it paints is merely of people who are terribly unsuited to their profession. Overacted outbursts during interviews with abusers, or openly laughing as a clueless teenage girl talks about exchanging a sex act for a smartphone, add some nuance outside of the typical good guy/bad guy divide—but in life and film, too much drama is just tiring