‘A Cop Movie’ an arresting documentary
“A Cop Movie” opens with flashing blue and red lights and a wailing siren that sounds like a woman’s scream. The noise is accompanied by a line of verse from a poetry competition open to Mexican police officers, the gist of which is: when you’re on a shift, you can only hope the sirens aren’t for you. When the perspective shifts to dashboard cam video, it seems this might be another “Cops”-style documentary set in Mexico City, starring a police officer named Teresa. But it turns out to be something much different.
Teresa arrives in a squad car and answers a call meant for an ambulance, finding a young woman is in labor (as viewers of the excellent documentary “Midnight Family” already know, your best chance at getting an ambulance in Mexico City is paying for a private one). Teresa delivers the baby and even triages an argument about what to do with the placenta. She heads back to the precinct, where she suffers from hazing and disrespect from her male colleagues.
She has a strange interaction with another cop, Montoya, whose story unfolds next. After a day in the life with him, we learn that he’s actually Teresa’s partner both on and off the beat. We see the pair being interviewed together until mid-sentence, the camera cuts out and another layer is added to the film. These people are actors, recreating stories of real-life cops—Mónica Del Carmen plays Teresa and Raúl Briones plays Montoya.
These thespians have gone beyond your average Method acting and enrolled in the police academy for six months, accumulating the scars and bruises needed inhabit their roles. Briones speaks of his revulsion toward cops before becoming one for this film. He struggles more than the level-headed Del Carmen, muttering, “Why the f--- did I agree to do this f---ing movie?” Even the barber who shaves his bohemian locks and beard offers his opinions that cops are useless, only coming around to take bribes, not ensure public safety. For her part, Del Carmen finally breaks down when she’s on a patrol as a cadet and meets a 13-year-old girl who has been trafficked and assaulted by her own family.
Though nominally a documentary, “A Cop Movie” has many passages of lush, color-saturated reenactments of Teresa and Montoya’s time on the beat, accompanied by lengthy voiceovers that Del Carmen and Briones. Director Alonso Ruizpalacios uses stylish camerawork to defy expectation that this story will be all grit and grift.
The characters in the film ask hard questions of themselves: Is it worth sticking it out in a tough role, whether you’re a young actor or a real cop? “A Cop Movie” proves to be an uncommon documentary/fiction hybrid that approaches the police film in an all-new way. And a final twist adds yet another layer of surprise to further confound audience expectations. The film moves past the banal canard, “There are good cops and bad cops,” and transitions into a more intriguing consideration: “Police officers are like actors.”