MIFF 2011: Angry Cops & Angry Journalists

PAGE ONE, offering up a behind the scenes insight into the editorial offices of The New York Times, brings fascination and frustration in equal measure. The documentary primarily follows a journalist named David Carr, who initially represents the old vanguard of reporting. Investigative, curmudgeonly and argumentative, he is an old-school newspaper man – wary of technology (at least initially) and fiercely protective of the Times' reputation. Carr is a dream subject for a filmmaker and PAGE ONE for me was at its strongest when it was following him developing and investigating stories.
Unfortunately PAGE ONE's primary flaw is a lack of focus. Director Andrew Rossi (who by himself spent 14 months in the Time's newsroom gathering footage) obviously became excited by the multitudes of issues his story touched upon and tried to cover them all in a strangely meandering and scattershot way.
PAGE ONE is a film that shows the behind the scenes workings of a major newspaper, it discusses the threat of new media, it covers topical issues such as Wikileaks, examines the importance and history of print media and finally it introduces us – in a verite style – to the characters that work at the paper. All these disparate threads are never truly brought together into a cohesive narrative which results in an experience that, while always interesting, feels totally disjointed.
The Wikileaks story for example is brought up near the beginning of the film, then dropped for over an hour before being picked up again seemingly at random near the end giving the film an oddly jarring set of bookends.
PAGE ONE in the end is still reasonably enlightening as it raises many questions about the place and importance of print media in this 21st century technological landscape. In 5 or 10 years it will probably play as a curious historical document chronicling a significant moment of change in history.
Let me be very clear. While I was watching POLISSE I was constantly engaged. It was pacey and entertaining. The moment POLISSE finished my regard for it began to drop (the terrible ending didn't help matters). The problem is that POLISSE is a frightfully conventional film.
POLISSE follows the officers that comprise the Child Protection Unit in Paris. Their day to day life is filled with cases of paedophiles, parents that abuse their children and children that do inappropriate things. It's a rough job and the tensions obviously flow into their private lives as they are fraught with divorce, bulimia, affairs and general misery. If you have never Law & Order SVU (or even The Bill) then this film may well interest you but for me its narrative was ploddingly familiar. It is no revelation that cops who work child sex cases have personal lives that are fraught with stress and tension.
The film is maddeningly episodic in a very disconnected way. Many little scenes felt like they could have been placed anywhere as the film barely builds any consistent narrative drive. Proponents of the film would argue there is a cumulative effect at work in the way it alternates tones and episodes over its reasonably long running time but I would disagree. There is a sloppiness in the structure of the film that makes it feel at times like it's a season of a French remake of The Wire cut down into a 2 hour movie.
Writer/Director/Actor and single-named, hipster face Maiwenn apparently spent quite a bit of time researching real life case studies from the unit's files. Many of the situations in the film are true but this fact feels like a disingenuous way to give your blandly stereotypical film gravitas. Maiwenn also casts herself as a photographer who is tasked with chronicling the day to day life of the unit. This results in several 'Wow this is self-reflexive' scenes where the officers get upset about her photographing certain moments. This again seems like a way for her to artificially add a false sense of complexity to a film that is no more revelatory than a telemovie.
The moment POLISSE finished I said to myself I really enjoyed that but then a second later my brain began to think about it. I tried to stop myself thinking but to no avail. I cannot really recommend POLISSE to anyone. If you have seen THE WIRE then you will find this really generic and superficial. If you haven't seen THE WIRE then you should probably just watch that (or LAW & ORDER: SVU. POLISSE needed more Ice T). Definitely gets one angry Ice...