The daily grind for the cops of the Police Department's Child Protection Unit - taking in child molesters, busting underage pickpockets and chewing over relationship issues at lunch; interrogating abusive parents, taking statements from children, confronting the excesses of teen sexuality, enjoying solidarity with colleagues and laughing uncontrollably at the most unthinkable moments. Knowing the worst exists and living with it. How do these cops balance their private lives and the reality they confront every working day? Fred (Joeystarr), the group's hypersensitive wild card, is going to have a hard time facing the scrutiny of Melissa (Ma´wenn), a photographer on a Ministry of the Interior assignment to document the unit. (Based on real cases.)
Review by Louise Keller:
Winner of the 2011 Cannes Jury Prize, this potent drama set in the midst of the police working in the Child Protection Unit, is gritty enough to rip us to shreds emotionally as it embraces the ups and downs, laughs at the ridiculous, winds down at the end of a tough day, deals with shattering issues and drowns in the despair of the unthinkable. It feels a bit like a documentary, which is not surprising, as the cases depicted in the film are based on real cases, yet it's the overwhelming energy and honesty that is transmitted throughout, that gives it truthful ballast.
It's the work of Ma´wenn, the striking actress with the striking name, who has directed, co-written and stars in the film, and who takes a cold, hard look at the pressures, the camaraderie, the stresses and the personal toll that working in this environment promotes. The film's greatest achievement is to be able to put us into situ, offering a glimpse and a sense of the laughter, the tears, the pain and the heartbreak.
It takes a little while to get into the rhythms of the narrative, into which the lives of the police team are put under the microscope - at home, at work and winding down with colleagues. But this is no ordinary job. It entails questioning young children who have been abused as well as interrogating their offenders. There's a little girl whose father interferes with her; a raid involving exploited children of Romanian gypsies; a middle Eastern man who is forcing his young daughter to marry against her will.
The story strand concerning an African woman who wants to give away her young son, so he will not sleep on the streets at night is one that especially resonates: as they are separated, the boy's screams are profoundly affecting. Two other stories that especially moved me were that of the young daughter who tells her mother (Sandrine Kiberlain, superb) that her father loves her too much, as well as the teenage girl pregnant from rape, who gives birth to a stillborn daughter.
Every story is compelling but the main story is that of the policemen and women whose work brings justice, peace and closure to the many disturbing incidents. There are heated conversations and bottled up emotions explode as pressures mount and tensions reach breaking point. As we get to know all the members of the group, it is the sexually charged relationship between the married Fred (Joeystarr) and photojournalist Melissa (Ma´wenn), whose assignment is to take photographs of everything that goes on, that takes centre stage. When she lets down her long hair, Melissa goes from reclusive frump hiding behind black-rimmed glasses, to a sexy, confident woman of the world.
There's no predictable dramatic arc, nor any predictable sequence of events - it all plays out like a vibrant, explosive slice of life, when the unpredictable can happen at any moment. It's not always comfortable to watch, but one thing is assured: this is one film you will not forget.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
At first, its collage style is distancing, a random series of scenes connected merely by the theme of child abuse. Different stories, no through-line ... but slowly this patchwork starts to form a cohesive energy and dramatic weight and draws us ever tighter to its gut wrenching centre.
Built up from several cases, actor/writer/director Ma´wenn and her writing collaborator Emmanuelle Bercot have turned the various episodes into a wonderfully complex jigsaw, whose pieces fit together in emotionally dynamic fashion. It defies credulity that this is a drama acted out in front of the cameras; it looks and feels very much like a well made documentary, a painful one, with children crying, sobbing uncontrollably, adults weeping and losing their composure in such extraordinary fashion that it affects us deeply.
The question posed by the filmmakers is: how can the police working in the child protection unit manage their emotions and their lives when faced with such extremes of human behaviour every day. The answer is: with great difficulty, and not always with a happy ending.
Every single person we see on camera - from key roles to minor supports - delivers riveting veracity. Ma´wenn herself plays Melissa, the photographer assigned to capture the work of the unit in stills, for a planned publication about their work. But as the director, she doesn't use her character to give us her outsider's point of view so much as taking us into the unit through her experience with them - leading to an affair with one of the men, the married Fred (Joeystarr), an emotionally intense and dedicated member of the team, explosive when faced with the impossibility of helping the victims that are brought to the unit's attention.
Marina Fois is sensational as Iris, a rather tormented and sharp, man-hating officer who is deeply committed to her work and cares as much as any of them. Karin Viard plays Nadine, her colleague and friend, confiding in Iris about her troubled marriage with catastrophic results. Co-writer Berco also plays a role, that of Sue Ellen, a tough, intelligent woman, her feelings clearly displayed. The men, too, are outstanding, from Joeystarr's volatile but deeply caring Fred to Frederic Pierrot as Baloo, the team leader, among others.
Oh and the children; it is through their authenticity that we totally buy into the film's multi-layered world, from toddlers to teenagers. And so many stories; there is even one about a middle aged Muslim father who is given a harsh lesson in the real Koran by the Muslim woman on the team who rips his head off (metaphorically) admonishing him for trying to marry off his teenage daughter to a man she doesn't want. She takes out a copy of the Koran from her desk and opens it, demanding he show her where it says he can do that. "The Koran teaches respect," she shouts at him.
And that is perhaps the mildest case.
The film (winner of the 2011 Jury Prize at Cannes) manages to explore the subject of child abuse in various forms, the impact of the work on the team as human beings, their professional conflicts and strains and the absence of easy answers, all with a dynamic rhythm driven by Laure Gardette's editing.
Much of the film is confronting and challenging but it's also thought provoking, deeply moving and for all its anguish, truly cinematic. An astonishing, powerful film that never lets the audience down with artifice.
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INTERVIEW WITH MAIWENN
CAST: Karin Viard, Joeystarr, Marina Fois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Ma´wenn, Karole Rocher, Emmanuelle Bercot, Frederic Pierrot, Arnaut Henriet, Naidra Ayadi, Jeremie Elkaim, Sandrine Kiberlain
PRODUCER: Alain Attal
SCRIPT: Ma´wenn, Emmanuelle Bercot
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre Aim
EDITOR: Laure Gardette
MUSIC: Stephen Warbeck
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nicolas de BoiscuillÚ
RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Curious Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 28, 2012