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Director/writer/actress Maïwenn in a scene from her film Polisse.


Keeping the Desire

May 26, 2012 Maïwenn
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“I don’t like to push the audience to think like I think,” says Maïwenn, director and co-writer of the gritty French drama, Polisse. “Of course, I have an opinion, but my job is to show other points of view and make you feel free to think differently.”

Polisse, whose title is meant to suggest a child’s misspelling of “police,” focuses on a Child Protection Unit in northern Paris and weaves together the multiple storylines of its officers. Child protection officers must investigate any crime in which the victim is underage, whether it’s a case of molestation, teen suicide, or children being trained as pickpockets. The film depicts the difficulties that the officers face day to day, from dealing with uncooperative or abusive parents during investigations to maintaining some semblance of normalcy in their personal lives. Maïwenn was drawn to the subject after being deeply moved by a TV documentary on a Child Protection Unit.

“My childhood was complicated,” she explains, adding, “I have kids. I think that’s my temperament.”

Maïwenn, 36, began her career as a child actress. Spurred by her mother, she took on and auditioned for numerous jobs against her will. At 16, she had her first child with director Luc Besson, whom she met in 1991. Maïwenn is speculated to be the inspiration for Natalie Portman’s character, Mathilda, in Besson’s 1994 film, Léon. Maïwenn appears in a small role in that film and as an alien opera singer in Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997) but otherwise had stopped acting to raise her daughter with Besson in Los Angeles. When their relationship ended, she moved back to France and starred in comedic one-woman show based on her life. The success of the show led to film offers and a return to screen acting. In 2006, she directed her first feature, the autobiographical Pardonnez-moi, which was followed in 2009 by The Actress’ Ball, a faux documentary about French actresses.

In Polisse, Maïwenn plays a photographer assigned by the Ministry of the Interior to document the police unit. Through much of the film, her character is an observer, a reflection of her time spent with officers while researching their job, a process she felt was necessary before deciding to write the film. She spent nine months writing the film’s script, six by herself and three with co-writer Emmanuelle Bercot. The film was shot in a documentary handheld style that employed up to three cameras.

“The camera, for me, has to be a human being,” she says. “I like to recreate this reality on the set. So, I ask of the actors to listen to each other. And I ask of the cameraman to listen to what’s going on on the set. Everything has to be real, even the camera.”

The film’s sensitive subject matter, which deals with pedophilia, made it difficult to finance and to find distribution, but a Jury Prize at Cannes in 2011 resolved the complication of finding distribution.

“In France, no one was believing in the movie, and we had very little movie,” Maïwenn explains. “As soon as the movie went to Cannes, it became big.”

Polisse also earned 13 César Award nominations. Maïwenn is gratified that her film’s critical success has brought more media attention to the work accomplished by police units such as those portrayed in the film. However, if there’s a message she would like audiences to take away from Polisse, it’s to not judge the characters, whether they’re police or pedophiles.

“I spent a long time with cops, a long time with pedophiles, and I felt that all the pedophiles were victims, from childhood, they missed love, they missed parents’ attention,” she says. “That’s how they became borderline.”

To clarify, she is not excusing pedophiles.

“You cannot excuse someone just because he has been a victim,” she says. “That’s why this problem doesn’t have any solution.”

Maïwenn has yet to pick a subject for her next film but suspects that it might deal with motherhood or childhood. “I think I’m quite obsessed about this kind of thing,” she says, noting the importance of feeling an emotion connection with the subject of a film. She admires esteemed French director Claude Lelouch for his approach to filmmaking. “He’s in love with life. Most of the time, other directors that I’ve met, they are not in love with life, they are in love with their work, their movie.”

She has difficulty comprehending how other filmmakers can move from one project to the next without taking an interval to recover.

“It’s like you’re getting divorced and on the day after your divorce you meet someone else and you get married,” she explains. “You have to fall in love. You have to build something. And for me, when I do a movie it’s the same. I fall in love with the subject, I get married with the subject, and I’m trying to keep the desire as long as I can. And as soon as I divorce from the movie, on the day it’s released, I have to have a break. I have to get rest, taking care of my kids, taking care of my house, my friends, my family, and then falling in love again and keeping the desire.”

Polisse currently is available on demand and is screening in New York, Los Angeles, and other select cities.


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July 6th 2012

Thank you for posting this! After reading this post I went to check out the film. I think I am going to go see it because it sounds like such an amazing film. I love Maiwenn’s attitude when it comes to filming, especially her statement about “even the camera has to be alive” and director being “in love with life”. It’s quite rare these days to find entertainers like her. Definitely a must-see film!

March 10th 2013

Wow, she met Luc Besson in 2001? Nice little bit of time travel there!

March 11th 2013

Jedin, the typo has been corrected. Thank you.