A Cop Movie

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A Cop Movie
"For all its intricacy and cleverness, this is a film that never loses its central focus." | Photo: Netflix

Alonso Ruizpalacios joins the lengthening list of directors who are pushing the envelope in terms of documentary recently - including Kirsten Johnson (Dick Johnson Is Dead), the Ross brothers (Bloody Nose And Empty Pockets) - with this edgy, self-reflexive consideration of what it means to be a cop in Mexico City. The director tackles the documentary form, with the same verve and playfulness that he brought to his fiction features Güeros and Museum.

Our guides to the policing world will be - at least on the face of it - Teresa and Montoya, a pair of cops who end up being branded the "love patrol" by fellow officers after forging a relationship while out on the beat. We meet Teresa first, as she recounts a callout to a woman who was about to give birth, being forced to help when no ambulance arrived. The way the camera moves here, clues us in to the fact this is no straightforward documentary. Although the testimony is immediate, and initial moments could be 'fly on the wall', framing gradually hints at more crafted work and polish.

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From the reality of the birth, we are then, at the same time as travelling with Teresa, thrust into the realm of her imagination as she recalls the battle with her policeman father when she decided to follow in his footsteps, along with the memory of something that happened to him on the beat. The result is a sort of 'nesting' effect, as one memory and experience becomes overlaid on another, something that will form the crux of this increasingly non-conventional film as it goes along.

It's almost impossible to talk about this film in any detail without entering slight spoiler territory, so those of a sensitive nature in that regard may wish to come back later before reading on.

If the thriller style camerawork from Emiliano Villanueva and adrenaline-driven music from Lalo Schiffrin (Rush Hour, Mission Impossible), clues us in to the playful nature of the film, the full extent is revealed at the halfway mark, when we are introduced to the actors - Mónica Del Carmen and Raúl Briones - who have been playing Teresa and Montoya through the first portion of the film. This isn't simple re-enactment - or even doubling, as in Clio Barnard's The Arbor - but a multifaceted consideration of what makes a police officer in Mexico tick. Del Carmen and Briones both underwent 100 days of police training, their thoughts captured on mobile phones, as the fourth wall tumbles.

The actors begin to see the parallels between acting and policing - the way that a role is adopted in each case - while at the same time the testimony from Teresa and Montoya begins to reveal layers of a different kind, those of corruption that lace their invisible way through the force. Eventually we'll meet the real Teresa and Montoya in person, adding in yet another layer of experience.

For all its intricacy and cleverness, this is a film that never loses its central focus. Ruizpalacios' approach acts almost like a kaleidoscope, the ideas and aspects twisting this way and that as he shows them in different lights - semi-fictional, confessional, imagined - each time forming a different impression. When the officers do their training, they are required to jump off a high diving board into a swimming pool, even if they can't swim, Ruizpalacios also invites us to take the plunge.

Reviewed on: 14 Jan 2022
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A docufiction dive into the Mexican police force.

Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Writer: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Starring: Raúl Briones, Mónica Del Carmen, María Teresa Hernández Cañas, José de Jesús Rodríguez Hernández

Year: 2021

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: Mexico


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