Writer/director Maiwenn used challenges she faced from French authorities to her advantage when it came to making her latest film. Polisse centres on a team of police officers in a Paris child protection unit whose day-to-day work involves busting abusive parents and interrogating child molesters.
Due to the nature of her subject matter, Maiwenn had to hand the script she co-wrote with her friend Emmanuelle Bercot to the social services department for scrutiny and much of the film didn't make the final cut.
However, rather than lament her lost work, the 36-year-old French actress says the resulting film, which earned 13 Cesar Award nominations and won the Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, is all the more powerful for what it doesn't show.
"Everything is hard, you know," Maiwenn says over the phone while in Australia for the Sydney Film Festival. "Working is hard but I am used to work in a hard way.
"The most difficult part of the movie was getting authorisation from the government. The authorities were worried it was too intimate so I had to cut out many dialogues, many lines and scenes. I was scared I would lose my identity and my point of view but I think in fact this problem helped me out.
"I discovered as a filmmaker the less you show the more you imagine and the more powerful it is as a result."
Speaking sometimes with the help of a translator, Maiwenn, who dropped her surname Le Besco when she was a teenager due to her difficult relationship with her parents, says she came up with the idea for Polisse after being moved by a documentary on television about the CPU.
As part of her research she applied for an internship with the unit and spent time shadowing the police officers, "listening to them and watching them live".
"I was taking notes, I was like a sponge absorbing all the info I could get," she says.
Then she started writing - a six-month process which resulted in a "huge script" based on stories she witnessed or was told by officers. While Maiwenn admits she changed a few things about some of the cases, none of them, she says, was invented.
"I got to know precisely what these police officers did on a daily basis and I didn't want to skip any of their everyday duties," she says. "I wanted to mention paedophiles, incest in an upper-class family, the teenage environment . . ."
Maiwenn has two children of her own - a daughter Shana from her first marriage to director Luc Besson and son Diego with her second husband, Jean-Yves Le Fur.
I wonder, then, how she felt being exposed to such grim tales involving youngsters.
"I am not naive, you know," she says. "I knew these kind of stories existed. But I wanted to focus more on the cops' emotions instead of the victims. I wasn't there to watch the victims and I never wanted to take advantage of my position and be seen as a voyeur watching the kids. I wanted to watch the cops."
Unlike the cases she wrote about, Maiwenn admits the characters in the film are mostly fictional. However, her accomplished cast of actors, which includes multi-award-winning actress Karin Viard, Marina Fois and Bercot, also shadowed CPU officers in preparation for their roles in Polisse - the name of which was inspired by her son who, during a writing exercise, misspelt police.
Maiwenn, whose previous films as a writer/director include Pardonnez-moi and La Bal des Actrices (The Actress' Ball), herself has a part in the film as a photographer on a Ministry of the Interior assignment to document the unit who strikes up a relationship with one of its members, Fred (played by French rapper-turned-actor Joeystarr).
The other stars of the film, of course, are the children themselves, young actors who had to pull off some harrowing scenes, including one which sees a Muslim woman ask the unit to take care of her son because she can no longer provide for him.
Maiwenn, who herself began acting as a child, admitted in another interview she bribed the young boy who played the son with a remote-control helicopter he had his eye on. However, she says she worked hard to cast minors who were capable of delivering natural performances.
"It took a long time to find the kids who didn't overact and then when I met them I wanted to make sure that their parents were confident with me," Maiwenn says.
"I also wanted to make sure they knew the subject we were talking about so I asked them 'Are you sure you want to do this movie and why do you want to do it?'
"Their response was 'Because it's true', so I was surprised to admit even if they were young they were emotionally involved in the film."
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