Film Carew

28 June 2012 | 3:37 pm | Anthony Carew

It feels not much like a cinematic premise, more a televisual one; a dramatic series for those who loved To Catch A Predator.

God, Polisse sucks. It was possibly the worst film I watched in 2011; one that I'd hoped to forget, mostly, except when occasionally sentimentally reminiscin' about Karin Viard's so-bad-you-can-barely-believe performance. Yet, with starlet/auteur/celebrity/former-child-star/person-who-slept-with-Luc-Besson-and-all-we-got-was-this-lousy-career Maïwenn Le Besco —or, if you respect every egotist's right to evoke the iconic singular, just Maïwenn— in the country on a recent Sydney Film Festival-centred publicity crawl, there's been plenty of exposure for the picture, which opens this week.

Sadly, most of the drummed-up publicity has regurgitated a quote from some Hollywood Reporter hack who called it “a whole season of The Wire packed into” a single film; thus connecting a hideously overblown and horrendously theatrical ensemble movie with one of the most fierce and exacting television shows ever made. Hey, I guess both are about cops, or something. The cops in question, in Polisse, are those working in the Parisian Child Protection Unit; yes, indeed, these are the brave men and women who forever think of the children, sacrificing their lives for the virtuous justice of thwarting the perverted. Fighting that good, good fight! It feels not much like a cinematic premise, more a televisual one; a dramatic series for those who loved To Catch A Predator. And if our old pal from the Hollywood Reporter has one thing right, it's that Polisse is like a whole season of television squashed into 127 minutes; but it's like very bad television, and the artificial compression of countless jostling storylines and a busy ensemble of famous Frenchmen creates a cacophony where someone is wildly overemoting in every single scene; any moments of gradual build-up left on the cutting-room floor. The officers of the CPU are a flurry of theatrical peaks: they laugh, they cry, they party, they fight, they break stuff, they fuck, they yell, they thwart evil, they are undone by bureaucracy, with roughly one of those things happening every 20 seconds; and with every single storyline united by that oldest cliché in the cop-movie closet: 'this time, it's personal!'.

It reminds me of the reprehensible Love, Actually, in which Richard Curtis took the sitcom set-ups for ten separate pitches and squashed them into one supremely shitty flick; one supremely shitty flick that felt like the nadir of the name-actors-playing-a-cast-of-interrelated-characters movie 'til the Paul Haggis Crash came along. And, hey, wait, Crash —Film Carew's #5 Worst Movie Of The '00s, no less— is a pretty spot-on Polisse comparison. Le Besco's auteurist 'vision' is to put as many famous humans as possible on screen; her prior picture, The Ball Of The Actresses, was a one-joke movie in which an unending litany of French celebrities 'played themselves' in a film-within-a-film. Here, even the tiniest of roles are reserved for the famous, with children-of-privilege like Lou Doillon and Anthony Delon popping up in tiny roles. All this fame comes under the critical microscope when the entire cast turns in uniformly awful performances. When that comes from Viard— a ditzy comedienne relishing a dramatic turn to the point of hysteria —or rapper Joeystarr (effectively the Ice-T of the cast), it's no huge surprise; but when the normally brilliant Louis-Do de Lencquesaing submits a turn as a molestin' dad so ridiculously over-the-top he seems like a wrestling heel, you get the sense that all this scenery-chewing is coming at the writer/director/star's behest. Acting, writing, directing... it's all flagrantly, fragrantly on the nose; this cinematic stinker the flatulent emission of of Le Besco's 'vision'.

De Lencquesaing turns up, in a thankfully-less-crappy role in a much-less-crappy movie: Rémi Bezançon's A Happy Event. The film is, effectively, a rom-com, but it's one of the darkest rom-coms ever submitted to celluloid; preferring to chronicle the death of romance —the toll of raising an infant in a once-happy marriage— rather than the flourishing of it. Though it strains for the obligatory 'up' ending, this final life-goes-on sentiment feels, after all that's come before it, like smiling to stop from crying; meeting a sad parade of emotional wreckage with cheery optimism. Bezançon —working from a motherhood memoir for philosophy-professor-turned-author Eliette Abecassis—  shows the kind of things that are either not-talked-of and/or joked about; here, the re-tightening of a post-birth perineum isn't some gross-out rom-com gag, but a storyline loaded with emotional weight. For all the meet-cute cutesiness of its opening, A Happy Event is a dramatic study that runs deep. The title is, of course, tinged with irony; the blessed ecstasies of childbirth giving way to the brutal realities and pressure-cooker stresses of tending to a newborn. It's, effectively, just a realist portrait of married life as young parents, and all the changes that come with: how even the most footloose and fancy-free can become burdened with responsibilities —video-store clerk forced to become breadwinner, PHD student sidetracked by breastfeeding duties— that recast their existence; how self-identity is obliterated when one becomes simply 'father' or 'mother'; how a relationship of equals becomes wildly unequal with the introduction of a third party; and how a happy event can bring with it untold unhappiness.

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Surviving Progress is a superior example of the 'world is fucked' documentary; fitting in that sweet arthouse niche of pictures that take a subject —agribusiness, fishing, American foreign policy— and make it a potent symbol for society's imminent downfall. Here, there's no symbolism: instead, society itself is the study, and Mathieu Roy's picture artfully posits that current human existence is unsustainable and the persistence of free-market capitalism as overruling philosophy untenable. It does so by artfully pirouetting through a host of egghead talking-heads and countless Big Ideas about the planet; whilst undertaking micro-portraits of upwardly-mobile Chinese, Brazilian rainforest cops, and primate researchers. This is, of course, the best bit of Surviving Progress: when the chimpanzees are in the picture. In cinema, the naked ape's closest cousins are the eternal potent symbol; our millennially-ancient biological history staring back at us, the tragedy of man's 'dominion' reflected in the sad eyes of our fellow apes. Sorry, chimps: the world is, indeed, fucked.