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Incongruous or not, a boardroom meeting with actress and filmmaker Maïwenn reveals how she was ‘possessed’ by the subject matter of Polisse, and how she dealt with it.

The No 2 boardroom at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel is an incongruous place to meet Maïwenn, the French actress whose feature film Polisse screened at the Sydney Film Festival prior to its June 28, 2012 national release. Incongruous because a boardroom table is a distancing piece of furniture and not quite befitting the creative world that Maïwenn normally inhabits. She is dressed in a stylish, loose orange top, reflecting one of the fashion colours popular in Paris this northern Spring. (I only know this having just been there via Cannes…)

"she becomes more open and animated"

At first, her face is partly hidden by the hand she is resting it on, but soon she becomes more open and animated as we talk about her film and her process. Her English is pretty good, but there is an interpreter on hand to take us over any bumps. She is hardly needed, but Maïwenn (who hasn’t used her family name since falling out with her parents) feels more secure to be able to double check meanings – exactly.

She has lost none of her enthusiasm for her film, and talks about it as her ‘baby’.

Polisse is a remarkably effective film about the work of the Child Protection Unit in Paris, a collage of characters and events based on real life that leave a strong, resonant memory with audiences. 

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 (Maïwenn), a photographer on a Ministry of the Interior assignment to document the unit.

"astonishing performances"

Boasting astonishing performances from the children as well as the adult actors, the film won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2011. 

“I was lucky,” she says in answer to the question about the children’s performances. “I found good kids. Some had acting experience, some did not. The casting was a long process …” Her approach on the set – given the sensitive nature of much of the material - was uncompromising honesty. “I didn’t lie to the kids on set. I told them the truth…”

That directness made a strong impact on her friends when she first showed them the film, before it was screened at Cannes. “I love the movie but I was disturbed by the reaction of my friends … their faces showed they were destroyed.” To Maïwenn this was not a desirable outcome. 

But then she makes her films ‘selfishly’. “I don’t think of what the audience may want, or what anyone may think. I have my own vision. People were saying [during post production] that I should cut this scene or that scene … but my films are like my kids (she has two) – I know them very well. I don’t listen to others …”

"an instinctive filmmaker"

But, she admits, that’s not 100% true; “I did cut some material that several people suggested I should leave out. But generally I am an instinctive filmmaker and I stick to my instincts.”

Not that Maïwenn is indifferent to her audience, far from it. She went so far as to disguise herself in a hat and sunglasses (she’s well known in Paris) to catch a screening of the film in a cinema and bask in the reaction. “It was beautiful,” she says.

The origins of the film begin on a Paris afternoon, while Maïwenn is at home, considering her next project. She wants to make a ‘police film’ but has no specific ideas. The TV is on and a documentary begins screening, dealing with the Child Protection Unit in Paris and its work. Immediately alert, Maïwenn watches the doco and immediately picks up the phone to the TV station to track down the filmmaker – and the cops in the CPU.

“I simply became possessed by the idea,” she says and persuaded the police to let her hang around with them at work and afterwards, too. This immersion and exposure to their work informed the screenplay, which she co-wrote with her friend Emmanuelle Bercot. 

"exactly as it was intended"

“Once the screenplay was finished, we didn’t change the structure at all … it’s exactly as it was intended,” she says. 

Published June 28, 2012.

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Maiwenn at Cannes (2011)


Maiwenn in Polisse

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