With feature films “Güeros” and “Museo,” director Alonso Ruizpalacios established himself as one of the most innovative voices in Mexican cinema today. Pushing narrative form further into unexpected directions, his latest project — and first documentary effort — “A Cop Movie” blends performance and nonfiction to observe the daily ordeals facing police officers in Mexico City.
Initially, Ruizpalacios and producers Elena Fortes and Daniela Alatorre, both seasoned figures in the documentary world, had a broad idea of what they wanted to pursue: a movie about corruption and impunity. But it was only after their research with specialists in public policy and in law enforcement that the figure of the cop became their entryway to discuss the relationship between the citizenry and those representing authority. The approach, however, evolved as they realized fiction would have to come into play.
“When we finally got to them and decided that we were going to deal with them, the problem arose of, ‘How are we going to portray all of the little things that they talk about, all the little acts of corruption and the relationship to citizens and to the ones who are higher in command,’ things that are very complicated to catch on camera. So we knew we had to make use of fiction,” said Ruizpalacios during a virtual Q&A as part of the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series
Ruizpalacios interviewed a large group of policemen and policewomen in order to find the protagonists to guide audiences into this reality. Eventually he landed on Teresa and Montoya, two romantically involved officers. “We instantly knew that it was them because of the way they tell their stories. It’s funny and tragic at the same time. They’re very smart people, but more importantly they want to tell their story,” the director said. Their willingness to be candid was imperative to the success of the film.
On screen, actors Mónica Del Carmen and Raúl Briones play Teresa and Montoya, respectively, but the voices of the real-life subjects remained intact. Ruizpalacios asked the thespians to lip-sync the dialogue. Though this is not the first time this technique has been employed in documentary, he believes his cast’s take on it was more than just technical representation, but a real embodiment of these people’s experiences.
Halfway through the film, Ruizpalacios shifts his focus to the actors and the training they underwent at real police academies to imbue the project with lived-in realism. In doing so, part of the idea was to immerse the viewer in what it takes to become a cop in a country like Mexico, where economic disparities abound. Including such a meta section is a risky creative move, but Ruizpalacios hopes audiences come along for the ride.
“There was a point where I wasn’t sure it was going to work, like opening up in the middle of the film this new whole other film that isn’t about our main characters anymore, but it’s about the actors as characters, as people. And then going back to Teresa and Montoya, it was a long detour.” Watch the video of the filmmaking team’s interview with IndieWire’s Executive Editor & Chief Critic Eric Kohn above.
Fortes noted that the project was born both as a work of art but also as an impact campaign to ignite new conversations regarding how the Mexican society interacts with the police. With that in mind, the filmmakers understand that people in other countries might perceive the premise as problematic given the image of police, in particular in the United States, but hope that watching it will yield healthy discussion on how we view these institutions.
“We’re actually very curious to see reactions in the U.S. to this film and just in other contexts where the film has played,” said Fortes. “If the viewer has a different perception of the police or thinks about them in a different way at the end of the film, that was our intention because that, in a way, is a starting point for everything else that could happen in terms of impact, whether it’s changing attitudes, behaviors, the institution, the community, how we relate to the police, or how we understand the system.”