"Polisse" (First Viewing)
Directed by Maiwenn
"Polisse" opens with a table conversation where two untarnished young girls promise to always tell the truth. This is a mission statement that director Maiwenn was wise to take to heart, given that across the film's two hours are a handful of truly unnerving scenes that brings across the serious tragedy that the French Child Protection Unit deals with every day. These are not mere creations of the director's emotional whims, but taken from real cases that Maiwenn does well to recreate for the audience. Much like a commoner who is visiting the offices for a short period, these scenes come across as invasively piercing evidence of things we haven't the experience to understand; only the heart to cry for.
Child abuse is doubtlessly the heaviest topic that is dealt with in "Polisse", and the cases are given rather thorough and aggressive attention, though not by writer-director Maiwenne. Her characters do much of what we'd like to do, which is to express outrage overtly towards these horrible individuals. As for the film itself, it takes on a much more procedural approach to these events. There must have been more than twenty different cases shown throughout the film, and not all of them hit right at the heart the way others do. The abundance of these events nearly dulls the shock of some of the films more expressive moments. As focused as Maiwenn may be to get these events the proper audience, some would have been better left to the cutting room floor.
Very much of the film's strength is in these moments of real human tragedy, and not merely where it's the fault of the parent to the pain of the child. A scene of a young boy screaming without pause as the members of the CPU try to calm him registers as a devastating standout that puts across the film's intent greater than any of Maiwenn's handcrafted narrative arcs. A budding romance brings the film down to the television-comparative lows of "The Newsroom". Few of the CPU characters ever cohere as part of the film in the way the cases do, and it gives the film something of a hollow center to it. That's no slight on the actor's parts, as the ensemble is magnificently assembled and unanimously charged. It's simply that their characters don't seem to be focused enough in their line of work, or even knowing a reason why they fight.
"The Kid with a Bike" (First Viewing)
Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne seemed to make a rather large splash at last year's Cannes Film Festival with the introduction of this light curio. It seems a little odd for the hype around it to have become so down-to-earth in the months since, but I can only hope it comes from a place of respectful understanding on the audience's behalf. Indeed, the Dardenne brothers have not stumbled upon anything life-altering in "The Kid with a Bike", and instead go about this tale of youth troubles with a certain politeness about them. They're not unearthing heavy injustices or painful truths, but making friendly observations related to childhood trepidations.
The story of a boy whose father has all but abandoned him is a tougher one than the Dardenne's are willing to push, placing the anger and betrayal young Cyril is feeling into other parts of his life. If the film is most about anything, it's about finding a layer of trust between somebody, and how difficult that is for a boy whose bike is constantly being stolen. Cyril runs so instantly and quickly that it's basic instinct for him to run towards conflict, or else to shyly goad it towards him. It's a rather sweet and simple film, as is made clear by the primary colour palette that the clothes are derived from. It searches for the answers to childhood troubles, but finds greater vindication in walking away from them.
"I Wish" (First Viewing)
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
If Hirokazu Koreeda's latest Japanese film had been animated by Studio Ghibli, I suspect it would receive the attention it ought to have by its own merit. It wouldn't be so much of a leap in terms of narrative aesthetic, as "I Wish" has its heart firmly planted in the same emotional environment as some of Studio Ghibli's best. The story of two brothers living with different parents in different cities doesn't push the audience to take sides with how the family should live their lives. It instead giving explanation for why this separation was necessary, without taking away any of the pain results from these young boys being so far away from one another.
Much like the most recent Foreign Language Oscar winner, "A Separation", "I Wish" doesn't rely entirely on the situation to move forward events, instead bringing new complications into the fold. The film doesn't take long in taking up fantastical aspirations that aren't ever meant to overtly pierce the world of these characters. The film takes its title from the journey for not only these brothers, but their respective groups of friends, to make a wish so that their dreams would come true. For one of these two boys, Goichi, it means bringing the family back together, but he comes to realize his wish could come with heavy repercussions.
The rules of reality aren't deliberately ignored, but they simply do not matter as much as what it means if his wish does come true. Those stakes feel very real and give the film an unexpected, but not oppressive, semi-apocalyptic undertow. It factors in as thought-provoking, but doesn't take away from a sense of youthful adventure. What's more is that "I Wish" does not merely focus on this family, but the idea of family in general. Only children that young have the ambition to believe that anything they wish will become reality, and the adults in the film not only respect that, but admire that to a point of it being the reason behind having a family in the first place. Goichi's decisions may mean the prosperity of the idea of family, rather than the idea of his family. Or it could just be a childish fantasy. Either way, "I Wish" contains a sense of childish wonder that too many films from the perspective of children lack.