Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios (Mexico). Year of Release: 2021
A barrio in Mexico City, filmed from the inside of a police car. We hear the police radio trying to mobilize its officers. The driver of the car accepts this call. She leaves and enters a house where the inhabitants don’t seem too happy by her presence. “Where’s the ambulance?” they ask. She vainly assures them that it’s on its way.
The woman in the corner groans. She is heavily pregnant, The cop’s first aid course didn’t cover this. But she does have a pair of gloves – which she had to pay for herself. Some time later, the cop has delivered a baby. The ambulance still hasn’t arrived. The happy parents want to call it Teresa. “Please don’t”, says the cop. “I hate that name.””
If you were playing close attention, which I wasn’t, you’d have started to ask a few pertinent questions. This appeared to be documentary footage by a camera crew that was following Teresa at work. So how were they already in the home when she arrived? Js this some sort of set up? Well, yes, it is, but not in the way that you’re probably thinking.
The film proceeds to watch Teresa’s day to day existence on the force. She’s 34 and has spent half her life as a policewoman. Her dad before her was a cop, but he’s warned her to find a job with less institutionalised sexism. Besides, she was impressed during her training to see so many indigenous faces like her own. You don’t see that in every job in Mexico.
The focus moves slightly to another cop called Montoya. He polices a Pride march and doesn’t look fully comfortable. Montayo also has a policeman relative – in his case, his brother, who left the force a long time ago. As the film continues, he and Teresa fall in love. They are a poster couple for the Mexican police force. We start to fear some heavy duty copwashing.
Then, about half way through the film, it takes a dramatic turn. We have not been watching Teresa and Montoyo, but actors Monica Del Carmen and Raul Briones mouthing dialogue that the real policepeople once said. Yes, Teresa’s birth delivery did happen, but some time in the past, and it has been recreated by the director and actors.
Del Carman and Briones have a much more ambiguous attitude towards the police. As Briones gets a buzzcut haircut and has his beard shaved, he explains how he gradually lost any respect for the police when he saw how they treated people like him. In particular, he says, the Mexican police is thoroughly corrupt – something which is reinforced by a later scene which will will only allude to for fear of giving plot spoilers.
There are two possible responses to this sort of cinema, and I feel myself a little torn between them. On the one hand, you can welcome an assault on usual documentary forms. On the other, and especially if you are a person of little brain, which I most definitely am – you can see it as being too clever for its own good, and using techniques which only serve to make the film unnecessarily confusing.
The main issue here, at least as I’m concerned, is that maybe this sleight of hand is mainly there to enable the copwashing that we feared. Sure, we are exposed to many of institutional problems with the police, but the main message is that, “but individual cops are generally ok”. As the actors get into their parts by joining police training, we here them saying the cops driving them around “I have some problems with the police in general, but you seem to be great”.
Some reviews have tried to elide this problem by saying that the Mexican police have particular problems with their corruption, but the individual coppers are not racist like their US-American counterparts. That is, for me, simply not good enough. Too often, Ein Polizeifilm seems to be attacking the police as an institution while excusing every individual copper who goes along with this, which is, ultimately a cop out (excuse the bad pun).
There is enough interesting going on here to make this a film worth watching, and maybe worth watching again to see the bits you missed first time round. But at the same time, some parts of it are more interesting than others. I absolutely loved the chase inside a subway station, where the female cop jumped ticket barriers and her male counterpart stumbled over. But other bits have just too much exposition and not enough of anything actually happening.
Worth seeing, but maybe a little less High Concept next time, eh?