In a mind-boggling mix of fiction and fact, “A Cop Movie” is a holistic and unpredictable removal from the police force in Mexico City. The film makes it clear from the start that it is not a police-worshipping propaganda piece. However, some of the film’s impact is dulled by its sometimes overly complicated structure.
“A Police Movie” or “A Movie”ícula de policias” is a new documentary drama hybrid from Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios, which was released on Netflix on November 5. The film follows Teresa and Montoya, a pair of cops who joined the police force inspired by the retrospective patriarchs in their households, only to discover a world of corruption, humiliation and mistrust. They tell their life stories through images of their typical days and nights at work. Over the course of its run, Ruizpalacios tries to blur the lines between what is authentic and what is staged.
Describing the plot of “A Cop Movie” without giving away the whole experience presents a tricky set of challenges, as the true nature of the story is not revealed until about an hour after the film’s running time. On the one hand, this makes the film a viewing experience that is hard to forget, as the information revealed to you completely shatters your perception of everything you saw before. On the other hand, it makes the movie feel complicated, especially with more than half of the movie behind you.
The technicalities of “A Cop Movie” are some of the times when it shines brightest. The framing and camera movement are beautiful, and the dingy color palette is a fantastic complement to the film’s seedy depiction of Mexico City. Ruizpalacios is a ridiculously creative filmmaker, trying to change his style of presenting information and directing a scene from scene to scene. This same rapid shift of style can also be seen in his earlier films “Güeros” and “Museo”. The film is full of both obvious and subtle social critiques of the police: the most obvious is the corrupt and unempathetic nature of authority, and the subtle is the performative nature of being a police officer.
The sound design and cinematography play the biggest part in the film’s many attempts to mislead and disorient the audience’s sense of reality. The film was shot with a mix of sharp digital cameras, fisheye dash cams and iPhones. The natural assumption is that all footage shot with higher quality cameras is made up and many of these moments are obvious, like capturing a crook. There are others that play so naturally as if they could happen entirely by chance, like someone getting a haircut, leaving you wondering if what you’re seeing was even staged. The role of the audio in this deception is also not to be underestimated, with some sound recordings clearly professionally recorded and others sounding much cheaper.
If there’s one technical aspect of “A Cop Movie” that really took me out of the movie, it was the music. For the most part, there was no music score at all, which I was fine with, as I found that the eerie vibe of the locations generally complemented the mood of several scenes well. Unfortunately, when music was used it was incredibly cheap and sounded cheesy. During one scene, the song being played sounded so ridiculously standard that I almost burst out laughing. The music is a smaller part of the movie so I can forgive it, but the scenes it was superimposed on would have been fine without the music.
In summary, despite some overly complicated structural decisions, “A Cop Movie” still stands as a unique and impressive glimpse into the lives of two Mexican police officers. I would give this movie a 7/10. I recommend that if you want to see this movie you go in as blind as possible to get the most out of the experience. If you enjoy the movie and want to see something in a similar but different spirit, I highly recommend Abbas Kiarostami’s 1990 movie “Close-Up”.