Wednesday 3 March 2021

Streaming on Netflix - Janice Tong picks up on two films by Maiwenn - DNA (France, 2020) and POLISSE (2011)


Many of you may know Maïwenn as the blue-tentacled opera-singing diva in Luc Besson’s silly cult sci-fi The Fifth Element (1997). I wonder how many of you have followed her career to know that she was Besson’s lover when she was only 15 and, at 16, gave birth to their child. She is also the sister of Isild le Besco, a brilliant French actor, who directed a little seen gem Demi-tarif (2003) which showed at the Sydney Film Festival that same year, a narrative in the vein of Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows (2004).

I only saw Maïwenn’s Polisse recently, although it was available on SBS On Demand a few years back, but I didn’t want to face its difficult subject matter, that of crimes of a sexual nature against children, centred around the Paris Police’s Child Protection Unit; the film is in a monochromatic palette, very blue toned and sober and shot in cinéma-vérité fashion; almost like a documentary. But this is where documentary and fiction part ways - Maïwenn tells these harrowing stories through the eyes of the members of this team and inspects (only on the surface - because surface is all we have) how they cope with what they see and have to deal with on a daily basis. 

We are treated with an ensemble cast of very fine actors with Karin Viard and Marina Foïs in lead roles, also the French rapper Joey Starr, Frédéric Pierrot and Nicolas Duvauchelle who form the core unit; but it is Naidra Ayadi who really steals the show for me - I don’t feel she’s acting at all. Maïwenn casts herself as an outsider, a photographer brought in to document the unit’s experience; with cameos from Sandrine Kiberlain, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Alice de Lencquesaing, and Lou Doillon.


The title Polisse  was actually taken from Maiwenn's son’s misspelling of the word ‘Police’ and she thought it apt to use a child’s handwriting of this misspelt word for her title. A complex and tightly wound film spindling out a myriad of overlapping stories. Maïwenn’s use of petty dialogue and jokes shared over lunch distinguishes it from other polished crime movies; in the real world, it is hardly a slick affair; let’s not forget that the film is inspired by Christine François and Rémi Lainé's documentary Brigade des mineurs : l'amour en souffrance(1999). Polisse  film won the Cannes Jury prize in 2011.


Her latest offering, DNA (2020, above) brings us back to her Algerian roots; where a family goes through the loss of their father. Neige (Maïwenn) is a single mother who is in search of her own heritage and identity. She is desperate to find her Algerian roots, literally to bet hat part of her identity which has been slowly eroded; troubled by her uncompromising and estranged mother, brilliantly played by Fanny Ardant; this film has family at its heart. I found the scenes with Neige’s father (the snakes on the head etc) to be most unbearable and odd. However, Louis Garrel as Neige’s ex-lover François offers some relief to the building tension as the ex-lovers ride through the streets of Paris at sunset in slow motion; you almost feel that everything would be alright, somehow.

" the ex-lovers ride through the streets of

DNA is currently available to watch on  #netflix


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