Review: A Cop Movie (2021)

Berlinale Competition

© No Ficcion

Straight up cop movies are not easy to find on the lists of Berlinale competition titles. There are some notable exceptions, with José Padilha’s highly controversial title Elite Squad (2007) winning the Golden Bear award in 2008, as the most striking example. It seems that the Berlinale veteran Alonso Ruizpalacios who already has two Silver Bears in his pocket (his 2014 title Güeros was awarded as the best debut feature, while his 2018 based on true events heist thriller Museum scoped the best script award) lays his complete hand of cards on the table with A Cop Movie just with its title, but we are in for a surprise here. Awards-wise, the end result is another Silver Bear, this time for the outstanding artistic contribution (Yibran Asuad’s editing), while the Netflix distribution deal will secure the film’s exposure to a wider audience in the months to come.

The film opens to a female police officer’s voice-over narration set against a reconstructed sequence that covers one of the “adventures” of her job. Teresa once successfully delivered a baby albeit having no medical training and was celebrated as a hero by the family and neighbours of a woman she helped. That simple example raises many questions and shows some of the paradoxes of the Mexican society, such as where was the ambulance that was called, if Teresa’s intervention was legal at all, and what would have happened if something went wrong.

More delicate situations of a day to day cop routine in Mexico City, such as the lack of funding, the defiant attitude of the citizens from all the social classes, and the question of bribe among other things are exposed, as another officer, this time a guy called Montoya takes over the narration to present himself. In the next passage, it is revealed that Teresa and Montoya are not just partners in the squad car, but also in real life, which makes their story very film-friendly, especially in a full-on action sequence of chase through the hallways of a subway station, although not quite likely to happen in the real life.

The real surprise comes next: “Teresa” and “Montoya” might not be the real cops at all, but the characters for an upcoming movie, as we learn that they are played by the actors Mónica Del Carmen and Raúl Briones, respectively. The actors take over the film and their immersive, method-style preparations for the roles, from the training at the academy to actually patrolling the streets and facing the general population while “playing the role” becomes its primary content.

However, the social and psychological observations we get on the margins of the action are the real gem within this beautiful film. The key thing is the power and the attitude towards it. Different people have different motivations to join the force, from the family tradition and the genuine respect for the police work, to the existential reasons and even the pathological ones, such as to have a power and the ability to use and abuse it. The most striking contrast comes in the portrait of Raúl, who is a hippie, bohemian type of character and who has trouble playing the figure of authority.

Some comparisons could be drawn to the works of other filmmakers, such as Robert Greene’s plays on the audiences regarding the faction and fiction. There is bit of Peter Nicks’ work (especially his 2017 title The Force) in A Cop Movie’s DNA, while the parallels between it and Luke Lorentzen’s Midnight Family are hard to avoid regarding the complicated context of the Mexican society where the public services are systematically defunded. On the other hand, A Cop Movie is quite an original and sincere film whose imperfections (such as the missed opportunity to make a point once the real Teresa and Montoya and the actors who play them appear together in the same frame) make it even more genuine.

Technically, A Cop Movie is an ambitious work. The play with different styles and formats of footage shot by the newcomer Emiliano Villanueva are coded in a clever, not too obvious manner, while Asuad’s award-winning editing is a thing to marvel. Following Ruizpalacios’ vision and under his supervision, A Cop Movie is a one of a kind blend of diffusion and clarity and a must-see documentary.

Original title: Una película de polícias
Year: 2021
Runtime: 107’
Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish
Directed by: Alonso Ruizpalacios
Written by: Alonso Ruizpalacios, David Gaitán
Cast: Mónica Del Carmen, Raúl Briones
Cinematography by: Emiliano Villanueva
Editing by: Yibran Asuad
Sound design by: Javier Umpierrez
Sound by: Isabel Muñoz Cota
Production design by: Julieta Álvarez Icaza
Costume design by: Ximena Barbachano de Agüero
Make-up by: Itzel Peña García
Colourist: Phaedra Robledo
Assistant director: Pablo Pérez Lombardini
Produced by: Daniela Alatorre, Elena Fortes
Production companies: No Ficción, Cinema Maquina
Distribution by: Netflix