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Stars: Karin Viard, Joeystarr, Marina Fois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Maiwenn, Karole Rocher, Emmanuelle Bercot, Frederic Pierrot, Arnaud Henriet

Director: Maiwenn

While Maiwenn uses a single name on screen, this gripping police procedural proves her talents are singular rather than single.

She scores strongly as director, co-writer (with Emmanuelle Bercot) and as actress, playing a photographer from the Ministry of the Interior who is assigned to record the activities of the police – male and female – assigned to Paris’ Child Protection Unit. The screenplay is strong and pulls no punches either in its subjects or language and Maiwenn’s documentary ‘fly on the wall’ style direction adds power to an already potent subject as the Unit predominantly investigate harrowing crimes involving paedophilia and appalling child abuse.

At times as the drama progresses it becomes difficult not to agree with the traumatised woman who claims “Men are the scum of the earth”. That said, Maiwenn is an equal opportunity accuser. One of the most telling sequences involves a woman who deliberately drops her baby while attempting to con a shopkeeper.

Maiwenn scrupulously avoids melodrama. The result is even more telling, and vividly potentiated by a gallery of fine performances that add credible reality to the drama. Maiwenn even succeeds in pulling off a usually clichéd trope – that of the ‘plain’ woman who emerges as a beauty after she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down, making her romance with a member of the unit credible rather than imposed on the story structure.

The characters are hard. They have to be, given the horrors they face in their work. But they also prove to possess soft centres, which make them believable rather than simply screen ciphers. Excellent locations – notably a shootout in an American-style mall – are well chosen and work effectively within the documentary-style format.

The dialogue is strong and apt. Polisse hits hard. Think Law and Order: SVU with raw dialogue and even more raw action and with no concessions to the advertisers, who ultimately control and sanitise television programmes.

Alan Frank

France 2011. UK Distributor: Artificial Eye. Colour.
127 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 11 Jun 2012