'Polisse' Shows Child Abuse Cases With Gritty Realism

Robert Siegel talks to French director and actor Maiwenn about her crime drama Polisse. The film follows the daily lives of a tightly-knit team of men and women working in the Child Protection Unit of the Parisian police. Basing her script on real child investigation cases, Maiwenn conveys the emotional strain of the unit's work with gritty realism.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. As this year's Cannes Film Festival gets under way, the winner of the Jury Prize at last year's festival is opening here in the U.S. It's called "Polisse."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "POLISSE")

SIEGEL: That's P-O-L-I-S-S-E. The filmmaker, Maiwenn - she goes by a single name - says the word is misspelled because it's the way a child might spell it. It's about the French police in the child- protection unit. They deal with child abuse. Maiwenn says she saw a documentary about the unit. She got what she calls an internship with them. And the film that she directed, co-wrote, and that she acts in reflects what she saw and heard from her time with the police. She shows us the arrests, the interrogations - but not the trials or the verdicts.

MAIWENN: I thought about it, and I decided to be as close as I could to the cops. And they never, never have the resolution of the cases because they said that they have to protect themselves. So the only way to protect themselves is to finish when the interview is finished. They sleep, and the next day, they start over on other cases. I wanted to put this idea in the movie, this frustration in the movie. I know the audience is going to feel frustrated to - do not have the end of story, but this is how they deal all day long.

SIEGEL: How much access did you have to the work of the police unit?

MAIWENN: I had almost all access. I went everywhere with them. I wanted to take every moment with them. I wanted to feel their sensibility. I didn't want to give any attention of the cases that they were working on. I was more attracted to the emotion that they have to deal - all day long; how can they have a private life with this kind of job; why they fall in love, how.

SIEGEL: There's a case that involves a teenage girl who is - well, she's performing sex acts for a cellphone.

MAIWENN: Yeah.

SIEGEL: And as she's describing this, the police who are interrogating her are in stitches.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "POLISSE")

SIEGEL: Was that a moment where you felt the cops were being human, were being bad police? How did you see that scene?

MAIWENN: I decided to exaggerate this scene. In the reality, they were not so laughing. But I felt that they were laughing inside, so I decided to push the idea further, and to make them laugh. And with this idea, I know the audience is going to think oh, my God, they are awful; they could be monster. And I completely assumed this idea because sometimes, they are monster. They are completely disconnected with the reality, with the suffering. It's a way, also, to protect themselves and to cry, also, on the reality.

SIEGEL: It's their defense mechanism in dealing with these things.

MAIWENN: Yeah. You know, when I arrived at the child unit - protection, as soon as I arrived there, I felt that the humor was the only solution to stay alive. So after three days - me, too. I was laughing, and the joke was not funny. But it's the only way to say hey, I have my life. I'm not going to fall with you, with the misery.

SIEGEL: Well, tell me what you heard from the real-life child-protection unit of the police when they saw the film, and they saw how they had been represented.

MAIWENN: Well, they all say the movie, it's us on the good side; it's us on the bad side. We have to say the truth. So they were really proud to feel, also, all the media were talking about them during the Cannes Festival. And because of the success of the movie, it became a social subject.

SIEGEL: Well, Maiwenn, thank you very much for talking with us about "Polisse."

MAIWENN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: French filmmaker and actress Maiwenn. Her film is called "Polisse." It's about a child-protection unit in Paris.

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