One can imagine what a difficult life it is to be a police officer working in child protective services. The daily parade of cruelty, negligence, desperation, and stupidity would be nearly impossible to remain impervious to, and when one's own problems—divorce, eating disorders, loneliness—dovetail with a particularly gruesome day at the office, there might be some angry desk pounding, inappropriate laughter, or worse. Polisse, centered on one such unit in Paris, is specifically interested in these moments when stress manifests and temper or decorum is lost. It's just as you'd imagine it.
Cowriter and director Maïwenn also stars as Melissa, a photographer assigned to document the officers' unit. Shot in a plain, faux-documentary style with partially improvised dialogue, Polisse has an unpolished naturalism that doesn't always work in its favor; a more controlled approach might have eliminated stretches of boredom, and the trumped-up romance between Melissa and one of the cops could have benefited from a bit of sparkle. The plot juggles all manner of cases, from incestuous child molestation to a Romanian pickpocket camp, along with the assorted miseries of the officers assigned to deal with them. For all the variation, each plot thread leads to the same histrionics and overwrought drama.
We get it: Their job sucks and sometimes causes breakdowns. But Maïwenn's film—researched by spending time with real-world officers working in these units—is so fixated on breakdowns that the portrait it paints is merely of people who are terribly unsuited to their profession. Overacted outbursts during interviews with abusers or openly laughing as a clueless teenage girl talks about exchanging a sex act for a smartphone add some nuance outside of the typical good-guy/bad-guy divide—but in life and film, too much drama is just tiring.