Director Maiwenn on the set of her film Polisse (Photo credit by David Verlant)
Copyright Les Productions du Trésor. A Sundance Selects Release
Since winning the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Polisse has won two Cesar awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars), screened at numerous festivals worldwide, played to great success theatrically in France and various territories throughout the world, and got picked up for US distribution by Sundance Selects. The second feature from director/co-writer/and actress Maiwenn (The Actress’ Ball), Polisse follows the police officers in the Child Protection Unit as they deal with cases ranging from the tragic to the mundane, and shows how this challenging and unique work impacts every aspect of these peoples’ lives. In anticipation of the film’s release in theaters on May 18th (VOD on 5/25), I recently enjoyed a conversation with Maiwenn about making the film. Here’s what she shared with me about her time spent with the real-life Child Protection Unit, weaving real-life into a work of fiction, and crafting Polisse.
Jackson Truax: What was the thing you took from your time with the real-life Child Protection Unit that was most useful to you in making Polisse?
Maiwenn: I would say the emotions that [overtook] the cops. Of course, I was interested to the cases… But, at the end at the end of day, the most important thing that I [saw] was the emotions of the cops.
JT: In the time you spent with the Child Protection Unit what did you see, hear, or learn that surprised you the most?
M: I was surprised when I [learned] the motivation of the cops. Their motivation is never material. Whether they win the case or not, they’re invested.
JT: How did you decide to focus the film on these cops, and not the cases they were investigating?
M: I fell in love with their job, with them. My interest was in cops and not pedophiles, or victims.
JT: I know all of the cases in the film are taken from cases in real life. Of all the cases you saw and things you heard about, how did these particular cases come to make up the film?
M: I chose the cases because they reflect the routine. They’re not spectacular cases. I didn’t want to make it look like, “Oh my God. They are such heroes. They are so strong and powerful.” No. I wanted to give an idea of what I saw. What I saw was not very spectacular all the time. So the cases that are in the movie are really representative, and very normal.
JT: The film is an ensemble piece, and there isn’t one character in the Child Protection Unit who serves as a vantage point for the audience, and there also isn’t one case that weaves throughout the movie. How did you decide this would be your approach?
M: Because, that was the only way…to really have a palette of emotion. Otherwise, if I had chosen one case to follow throughout the movie, it’s another movie. In the sense that it’s a police drama, and that’s the structure. I wanted to show a chronicle.
JT: How did you navigate how much screen time to give each character, and what stories would intersect where?
M: In the first version of the script, every cop had the same number of scenes. I wanted to get into the personality of each cop. But my script was too big. I had to make a choice. I’d rather be focused on Joeystarr’s character, Karin Viard’s character, and Marina Fois’s character.
JT: Were you and co-writer/actress Emmanuelle Bercot writing the roles of Melissa and Sue Ellen for you two to play?
M: I’m an actress. I love to act. My character is close to reality in the sense that I am a director…she’s a photographer. So maybe it was an easy way to identify myself. Also, I wanted to create a culture shock between someone who belongs to the bourgeoisie, and someone who’s from the low-economic side, which is the cop, Fred (Joeystarr). I wanted also to put a love story in the drama. Because I love when [there’s a] contrast in the movie. I love when there’s a love story [within] a war story, for example. I think, presented in this way, the movie, it’s not a chronicle anymore. It’s a fiction movie. I think the only way to include a love story where two people are happy is to place it in the drama. Otherwise, if you just show two people who are happy, it gets boring.
JT: What was the jumping-off point for how realistic the film should be, and where it would become a work of fiction?
M: It didn’t change much, except of course the names, the details. Maybe my job was to make it all together cohesive. I had to [include] some level of police hierarchy. There are many other steps to the process, that are obviously very police or very process-driven. But… I couldn’t show all those many procedural things. So those were pulled back.
JT: One of the most memorable scenes in the film is when the mother comes to give her child up and the two are separated. How did you go about shooting that? Was the boy a child actor?
M: He was not an actor. But he played the scene with his own mother. Which I think helped me out very much… I hadn’t seen that case in real life, but cops told me about it… The child was so shy… But I could tell that he wanted to do it. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. But what we see in the movie was shot in one take.
JT: Joeystarr gives a great performance, and you two had worked together on your previous film The Actress’ Ball. What did you like about working with him?
M: In France, he’s a big rapper. He hadn’t been an actor before my first movie, which was all about actors… I met him because he was supposed to write a song… I loved his sensibility, his temperament. I wanted him to be in the movie. So he said, “Yes, but I’m not an actor.” I said, “That’s okay. Just let go.”
JT: Is there anything in particular you hope that audiences will be thinking or feeling as the credits roll?
M: No. I don’t like to give any personal message. I love when people give their own message. I love when people say, “I sat at the end of the movie and I kept thinking and thinking.” That’s the best thing I can hear from the audience.
Filed under: LiC Interview