(Check out Sammy Levine’s review of Alonso Ruizpalacios’ latest, A Cop Movie, streaming now on Netflix. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?
Alonso Ruizpalacios’ latest, A Cop Movie, is an experimental pseudo-documentary plunging the psychic depths of policemen in Mexico City. While Ruizpalacios’ previous features pushed the boundaries of meta filmmaking; A Cop Movie bulldozes the 4th wall, achieving new Brechtian heights for Mexico’s flashy auteur. Just this week it earned a Cinema Eye Honors nomination for the ‘Heterodox Award’ that highlights films that push the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction filmmaking. The film comprised of 5 parts, is constructed through shifting vantage points and layered story editing to reveal the complex psychology of police and the act of policing. A Cop Movie is a deep dive into the moral tug of war a police officer faces in Mexico City’s sea of corruption and the role of cinema as a tool of exposing this untenable situation.
The film details the lives and experiences of two police officers: Teresa (Monica Del Carmen) and Montoya (Raul Briones). It focuses on the different trials and tribulations they face with their occupation. We start the film following Teresa as she patrols the empty dark streets of Mexico City. Her flashing blue lights cutting through the blackness of menacing alleys and empty streets. Her walkie-talkie creaks with static and various codes. Eventually she is summoned to a house with a pregnant woman in the throes of unexpected labor. The scene is chaotic and tense. Teresa begs for an ambulance and medical help to dispatch, but is met with radio silence. She’s on her own- a key theme throughout this incisive docudrama. Fortunately, she is able to successfully deliver the baby and she escapes the dire situation unscathed. We soon learn her motivation to become a police officer through voice over narration and direct to camera address. In Part II, we are introduced to Montoya. He’s a broken policeman whose family has left him and drinks away his misery in the company of his dog. Montoya barks and howls and screams in his lonely apartment but like Teresa, no one is there for him. In public, Montoya’s interactions with civilians is met with complete and utter disdain. He is berated constantly and insulted during his patrol; he is spiritually stranded. Eventually in Part III, Teresa and Montoya are assigned to patrol the streets together. The shared long nights and mutual sense of alienation lead to a romantic relationship. Finally, they are no longer alone.
Part IV of A Cop Movie is where the film upends all we thought we knew about the previous parts and characters. An interview of our protagonists in their apartment disintegrates as the camera tilts, the actors ask for a bathroom break, the film crew floods the screen. Our diegesis distorts and the reality of the first half of the film is called into question. The previous chapters were in fact re-enactments, Teresa and Montoya are played by actors, but what about their lives? Did Teresa really deliver that child? Was Montoya truly a drunk screaming into the emptiness of his apartment day in day out? Here Ruizpalacios and DP Emiliano Villanueva lean into 9×16 unfiltered testimonial video detailing the actors’ preparation for the roles. The training the actors went through to become a certified police officer comes into focus; how little effort went into it, how quick it was, how it felt like acting, how proud they were to see indigenous people represent the force, their animosity toward the process, how ill prepared they were, and lastly, how not all cops are bad people. The final twist comes in Part V, where the narrative flips back in on itself via the introduction of the real Teresa and Montoya.
A Cop Movie is art with a creeping political edge and a complex message. Through the unique and experimental construction, Ruizpalacios shades in the more complicated details of police work and the brave yet ill-equipped souls who serve their oath faithfully. Unlike countless indie police dramas that simplistically portray cops as evil or tainted, Ruizpalacios’ film asks more precise questions with regard to the ontological nature of police and act of policing. What does a cop actually do? Can anyone be a cop? How can a cop serve the greater good in a system that rewards bad actors? Ultimately, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ A Cop Movie is an insightful addition to a tired genre in need of a new perspective like this one.
– Samuel Levine
Netflix; Alonso Ruizpalacios; A Cop Movie review