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'Polisse': Riveting drama is based on child protection cases ✭✭✭ 1/2

Other cops look down at them, and their home lives are in a shambles. But the members of the Parisian Child Protection Unit in the gripping drama"Polisse"face their work each day with absolute urgency and love, not to mention gallows humor.

Inspired by a documentary, the film is shot with verite immediacy and beautifully acted by an outstanding ensemble. If not every piece of the puzzle delivers its intended impact, the movie as a whole gets under your skin, and the central characters resonate long after the screen goes dark.

Each incident is based on an actual case involving children and teens who are abused or otherwise endangered. In one sense, actress-turned-filmmaker Maiwenn's feature could be viewed as a highlights reel of dramatic climaxes from a first-rate cop show. But the smart, intricate script that she and co-star Emmanuelle Bercot have written ties together the episodic elements with strong emotional threads.

Maiwenn plays Melissa, a photographer who's embedded in the unit for a book project. The military analogy is apt; the frontline these cops occupy is not easily shared with their domestic partners. As Melissa becomes involved with cop Fred, played with charismatic intensity by rapper-actor Joeystarr, she's drawn back to her working-class roots.

In the crucible of work as well as their cafeteria debates and after-hours get-togethers, the actors deftly convey the cops' lack of pretension (their reaction to truffle pizza speaks volumes), as well as their fraught nerves and not-always-wise coping mechanisms. Karin Viard and Marina Fois are especially fascinating as friends pretending to confide in each other as they hide their darkest truths.

Whether it's bureaucratic obstacles, the he-says/she-says between an old man and his young granddaughter, a raped teen's devastating stillbirth or the unforgettable tantrum of a little boy, agile camerawork infuses the action with kinetic power. The film's greatest achievement is how fully alive it is.

'Polisse' -- 3 1/2 stars

No MPAA rating

Running time: 2:07; in French with English subtitles

Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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