Thursday, 21 June 2012

polisse (w&d maïwenn)

It's all about the narrative structure. It was interesting to read reviews of this film by Anglo Saxon critics after having watched it. There was no shortage of criticism of the narrative and character development. The suggestion was that these stories lacked closure. The audience was parachuted into a hotchpotch of stories containing insufficient degrees of beginnings, middles and ends. Then I read an interview with the director stating that this is exactly how the CPU police officers whose lives we follow for a year experience their work. They don't know if the endings are happy or sad. They are cogs in a machine just as much as anyone else. If the filmmaker compromises this truth, they invalidate the broader truth of the film's mission.

This is a self-consciously assembled text, a bricolage. The story is conveyed through fragments. Both the cases the police work on and the lives of the CPU team it, the film, follows. Towards the end of the film the director allows herself an indulgence as, from her balcony window, she spots a succession of characters we have come across in the course of her film. It's both a holistic moment and a nod to the limits of her docu-drama formula. No matter how much you try to get under the skin, there will always be artifice.

The film strikes the occasional unconvincing note as it traces the lives of its protagonists. Sometimes the (presumably improvised) responses of the actors seem forced. The integration of the director's character herself, a photographer assigned to document the police group, has a touch of whimsy to it. But at other moments this is a film which displays a gripping cinematic flair. Not least because the less obviously structured narrative means the audience never quite knows what is coming next.  Why do stories, in particular for cinema, need to be conceived and told in a neat, dots-joined-up format? Much of the beauty of being a spectator of cinema (or any narrative drama) is the pleasure to be had from flexing our intelligences as we make the connections for ourselves. Maïwenn's loose tapestry boldly resists the impulse to 'use' a particular story to convey the traumatic lives of the men and women who engage in the state's battle against child abuse. In contrast, it immerses us in the far messier story of their chaotic daily lives, and the toll that their job takes on these lives. Lives which ultimately seem almost as fragile as the lives of those they seek to protect.

No comments: