Actress-turned-writer-director Maïwenn plunges us into a police interview with a young girl talking about how her dad ‘scratches my bottom’ at the start of this sprawling, talky and energetic fictional portrait of a few months in the life of Paris’s Child Protection Unit (CPU). The stories come thick and fast – kids abused, misused and confused – but Maïwenn’s chief concern is the effect on the seven or eight members of the CPU she sketches at work, at play, at home and at their wits’ end.
Her film has an infectious energy and aims for a bottom-up, slice-of-life air characterised by naturalistic performances and a fly-on-the-wall shooting style. It falters in some key areas. Maïwenn casts herself as a photographer embedded with these cops, presumably as a way of being honest about her research, but it’s a distraction. Also, her avoidance of ‘miserabilism’ (an accusation thrown at her photographer alter ego) makes for some strange shifts of tone, and the acting often tips into hysterical. That said, the banter among the police, along with their partying, intense friendships and difficult relationships at home, are easy to believe, even if Maïwenn opts for one of the most disastrous endings we’ve seen in a long while.