“I’m obsessed with making it seem real”
by Fabien Lemercier
- Crusade for the protection of children and cinema-verite. The fiery director of Poliss, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2011, reveals her creative process and explosive personality.
Surrounded by her entire cast, the French director spoke to the international press about her third feature film, Poliss [+see also:
film profile], in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. What follows are excerpts of the free, straightforward and sincere exchange typical of the director.
Why this project inspired by cinema vérité after two relatively autobiographical films?
Maïwenn: It came above all from immersing myself in the police officers’ lives. I was won over by the passion they bring to their work. And what cinched it was that the subject had to do with childhood, which is something all three of my films share. When I realized the officers did to protect themselves from human misery, I saw that there was nevertheless interaction between their work and their personal lives.
You must realize that an officer doesn’t spend more than 10 years in the Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM), because the job is too hard and the squad has less money than any other. I quickly came to understand that the officers of the BPM do their work for personal reasons. Something else that struck me is the banalisation of sex in teenagers ready to give a man pleasure or be sodomized for an MP3 player. This really stunned me. And everything that we see in the film is real.
In terms of the children, the biggest problem was the consent that DASS (Departmental Coordination of the Medical and Social Program) was supposed to give over the screenplay. I had to submit many versions and make a lot of concessions over the dialogue and sex. Given my reputation for improvisation, the DASS feared I would adopt that method with the children, so I had to sign a form stating I would respect the screenplay word for word in the sex scenes with the children. But the children were really moved the fact that the film showed true stories: there was solidarity.
How do you improvise with the actors?
Everything depends on what they feel. If they follow the script and it’s realistic, then it’s fine. If not, we go off script and for example I might whisper something to one of them in order to throw off the others. I’m obsessed with it being real. So I try to achieve this on set and sometimes I shoot when it seems as if nothing is happening.
Why did you choose this ending of the parallel failure of the police officers’ personal lives and the triumph of their mission with a “rebuilt” child?
Working in this environment influences the subconscious. I noticed that the police officers didn’t want to part at the end of the day and when they obtain confessions, they want to share that with the others. Hence couples are created, but there are a lot of divorces and complications in obtaining custody of the children because of their work schedules. Which is ironic because they’re taking care of children the entire time.
For me it was important to show that a child can be “rebuilt” through words and forgiveness. During my research I sat in on a pre-charge detention and initially I was convinced that the man accused of paedophilia was innocent. Then I had doubts and the officers explained to me that paedophiles are often very intelligent people, manipulators, greatly skilled “performers”. Then there was a confrontation (not face to face) with the girl he had raped two years earlier. When she related the facts, the paedophile crumbled and admitted everything. The girl practically went through a metamorphosis. The police officers were overjoyed, saying, “We rebuild people”.