As my first foreign language review I have had the pleasure of watching an award winning movie that I had previously never heard of. It’s a French film selected for last years Cannes Film Festival and as such is subtitled. I always find subtitled films engrossing due to the simple fact you’re constantly required to look at the screen and genuinely concentrate, however this is not La Haine (1995) or quite like any film I have seen before.
I have a feeling that quite a lot of people will have trouble with this film as at times it can be difficult to watch due to its subject matter.
The plot (as such) shows you the daily lives of members of Paris’s Child Protection Unit (CPU) and is based on real life cases. A photographer (co-writer and director Maiwenn) is assigned to follow and document the unit and gets involved in their lives both inside and outside of work. But when your job deals with child rape, molestation, prostitution and deeds that are just evil, how do you leave this behind at the end of a day and bring balance to your life?
The film opens frankly with the questioning of a young girl suspected of being inappropriately groped by her father. This is uncomfortable viewing as she is innocent and unaware that his actions are wrong. The use of a shaky camera adds a level of documentarian realism.
It continues showing different members of the CPU going about their daily lives using close up framing of characters having heated debates, but seems realistic in its dialogue and humour, showing them as people just like us: human. Most of the film has a claustrophobic feel with many people in enclosed places: offices, canteens, and a dinner party. Ultimately I saw this film as a character study showing the effects a job like this has on people.
As we step into the underworld of what goes on in everyday life, it shows the pain and horror of what the CPU deal with, then focuses on their relationship with each other once the working day is done. We can see that this is a close knit team who love and respect each other, although they are not respected by the rest of the police force and know that although they are helping those in need, they are not changing the world as deprivation like this continues everyday. We never see the outcomes of the cases, as those decisions are left to judges, and as such the audience will never get a sense of closure from this film.
We see a child pickpocketing ring get raided, the search for a baby which has been kidnapped by its druggie mother, a grandfather confessing his actions towards his granddaughter and several other scenes which are shocking but unfortunately generally go unnoticed in everyday society. But the most chilling moments in this film involve babies at the hands of parents who are incapable of parenting, and a young rape victim’s abortion, which does not pull any punches.
This film shows shocking truths about the world we live in and the realities most shy away from, but this film has some light-hearted moments between the team who realise that they can’t let their job take over, and it’s touching to see how they are there for each other. Despite the film having such dark subject matter, I did find myself laughing out loud at some of the exchanges between the team and in particular a scene revolving around a mobile phone, but the mood quickly changes with the brutality of their next case.
Throughout this film we see friendships go sour, welcome advice turning into selfish instruction, corruption within the force, and ultimately the effects on having to deal with things that are mostly swept under the carpet. We see love in many aspects of the team but are horrified by one girl’s confession that her father loves her too much and that a gym teacher is in love with his student. The line between sickness and emotion can be blurred, but above all these are actions of people who don’t know the difference between right and wrong.
What really struck me were the juxtaposing scenes where you first see a youngster innocently describing how they have been molested, then cut to one of the CPU member’s kids and are left thinking that despite having a parent whose job is to protect youngsters from these evils, they are still in danger from the outside world.
This film shows you lots of character and plot threads that are left open and can sometimes be a bit of a mess. I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the pressures that the CPU deal with within the police force and the film never seems to have a goal or conclusion: it’s more to just document what these people do. As with most subtitled films, some of the grammar on the subtitles was wrong but I’ll allow it. I enjoyed the soundtrack and use of score. It’s minimal but is there in the right moments to enhance the grief or joy.
Director Maïwenn got the inspiration for this film from a documentary focusing on the real life CPU and then spent time with them in Paris before co-writing, directing and starring. I felt that this film seemed more like a television drama and funnily enough at the film’s premier in Cannes last year, The Hollywood Reporter critic Jordan Mintzer described the film as a whole season of The Wire rolled into a 2 hour movie. Judging from the overall power and enjoyment from this film, I now really want to watch that show!
Overall Verdict: Overall I was engrossed. It hit the ground running, was realistic, but the ending felt a bit of a cop out and there wasn’t any closure, but then again these crimes have always been and will always be. This film will shock you, make you laugh and hopefully make you appreciate the work people like the CPU do as they mainly go unnoticed and unrewarded. Powerful and harrowing viewing which definitely isn’t for a date night.
Reviewer: George Elcombe