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A Cop Movie (2021)

Alonso Ruizpalacios has pulled off something here that Christopher Nolan could only dream of. This is a movie about being in a movie, while simultaneously being a documentary about being a police officer in Mexico City. The Mexican police do not enjoy an unbesmirched reputation, and “A Cop Movie” is not going to change that. But what it does is show how ordinary people turn themselves into officers of the law, in the same way that actors turns themselves into their characters. It’s a neat metaphor, especially with a subject as complex as this.

The main characters are Teresa (Mónica Del Carmen) and Montoya (Raúl Briones), a married pair of cops who are as different as two people can be. Teresa is a tiny indigenous woman, the daughter of a policeman who fought hard against her following in his footsteps, for reasons she did not originally fathom. The tall and haunted Montoya grew up in a rough part of town, but with a ferocious mother who instilled a love of education and a determination to succeed. Their stories are told with a mix of reenactments in which they are also participants (most dramatically when Teresa is shown driving the car which takes her father to the hospital after being shot, a situation which happened when she was a child), and voiceover narration of incidents from their daily routines. At a pride parade, Montoya is taunted by a drunk black man who is dragged away by his friends. “You’re going to tolerate that?” a staring passerby asks Montoya. “I live in Miami. There he wouldn’t get away with that.” As he draws a finger across his throat, Montoya replies, “But this is Mexico.”

As the opening sequence – in which Teresa must assist a childbirth with no equipment other than protective gloves she has bought herself – makes explicit, the police in Mexico City are between a rock and a hard place. The city is so short of ambulances waits of hours are routine, but police lose their insurance if they intervene, meaning Teresa’s help with the baby was an act of stupidity, not heroism. Beat cops are meant to sign registers kept in local businesses in order to prove they are on patrols, but corruption is endemic and routine. And then the movie tilts on its head, and becomes explicitly about the training and experiences of Ms. Del Carmen and Mr. Briones as they underwent the same six months of training all new police in Mexico must undergo. And then the movie tilts again, always making sense, and always about the experiences of police attempting to do the right things in a system explicitly built to prevent that from happening. The complex set-up is very easy to watch, whether you’re expecting “A Cop Movie” to be a documentary, a fictional game, or an exploration of learning doing the right thing is actually the wrong thing. It’s tough to explain, but when you’re immersed into it, you understand. Being able to make a movie this good about something this metaphysical is quite an achievement.


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