Protecting the Right to Be a Kid

Aliens with bug eyes. Dragons. Mermaids. None of these scared me as a little girl. I always had an unwavering belief that good would prevail over the evil other-worldly creatures… at least as long as my Beauty and the Beast nightlight was aglow. That’s the precious ignorance of childhood. But I know now that for millions of children around the world, real-life monsters are far scarier than anything that was ever tangled up in my imagination. And, what’s more, I know that there aren’t superheroes to save them. 

But everyday heroes do exist. 

In Polisse, the internationally-acclaimed French film currently playing at the Lagoon Cinema, we get a gripping glimpse into those heroes’ lives. The film portrays the day-to-day of the Parisian Child Protection Unit, a tight-knit, dysfunctional group charged with tracking down the worst of the worst—pedophiles, unfit parents, and predators clawing away at the perfect innocence of youth.

Director/co-writer/actress Maiwenn pulls from true cases for the film: family members and teachers who molest children; mothers who neglect and abandon their young; teens who maliciously exploit one another. Needless to say, this is not a cinematic experience for the faint of heart, and it’s certainly not fit for family viewing. 

But though there are some moments that are uncomfortable, unbearable even, Maiwenn paints a compelling picture that seizes your emotions and heaves you into a grim reality that is so worth experiencing. Here, good and evil aren’t as polarized as they were in the fairytales and comic books we used to live by. Life can not be boiled down to prince charmings and mythical monsters, after all. 

That realization is what makes the film so jarring, so real. At times, you feel as if you’re watching a documentary. Unlike the CSI’s and Law and Order’s that have kept American audiences glued to their television screens for years, these characters don’t have all of the answers. Their personal lives are as messy and void of morality as the cases they chase for a living. Under the weight of the filth they face, each is coming apart at the seams in one way or another. Some turn to extramarital affairs, others to self-loathing or addiction, but you can’t blame them. More than once during the film, I found myself asking, “Who wouldn’t?”

The sense of camaraderie between the CPU officers drives the film. At times, they rope you into their dark humor and fill the theater with side-splitting laughter. Other times, a case will turn sour and cause you to sink into your seat, feeling as hopelessly defeated as they do. And then, there is the rare moment when it all comes together. The officers save the day and dance the night away in an electrifying scene that displays how truly human they are—it’s as close to true happiness as they ever come. 

The two-hour Cannes Jury Prize winner is a must-see. You will leave emotionally drained and deep in thought, yes, but also more aware than ever of how truly wonderful it is to be a child, and how unsettling it is that some young people never get the chance to be one. 

Lagoon Cinema, 1320 Lagoon Ave., Mpls.