For anyone unfamiliar, as I am, with the social discourse around child sexual abuse in France, it is hard to read the subtext of this messy, sometimes mesmerising and often maddening film.
Certainly, an opening scene makes it plain that it does not blindly accept the notion that children's testimony in such matters is always and utterly reliable. But the characters that it parades across the screen are scarcely calculated to sustain one's faith in humanity.
The film, which won the Jury Prize (effectively third place) at Cannes last year, focuses on the Child Protection Unit of the Paris police (the title is the French equivalent of a childlike misspelling such as "Pleece"). Director Maiwenn, whose decision to cast herself as a photographer documenting the unit subtracts somewhat more than it adds, spent a lot of time with the characters' real-life counterparts to research the subject.
The result is a film that oozes verisimilitude but is distressingly unfocused and quite devoid of dramatic shape. It's as if she became so hypnotised by her source material that she forgot to make it into a story. For all its attempts to cut between the characters' public and private lives, the finished work is essentially a series of episodes, more Cops than Hill Street Blues.
It's good to see actors of the class of Viard and Pierrot in top gear (although the excellent Kiberlain and De Lencquesaing are disgracefully underused). But the film as a whole feels more like an exercise than a fully wrought work and the final few minutes are an ostentatiously stylish flourish that is both bizarre and jarring.
Cast: Karin Viard, Joeystarr, Frederic Pierrot, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Maiwenn, Riccardo Scamarcio, Emmanuelle Bercot, Sandrine Kiberlain, Louis-Do De Lencquesaing
Running time: 127 mins
Rating: R16 (offensive language, sexual themes and content that may disturb). In French with English subtitles
Verdict: A work in progress