Director of “A Cop Movie”: “Being a cop is playing. You put on a costume and you play a role”
“A Cop Movie” is a documentary about cops Teresa and Montoya – and it isn’t. In addition to chatting with the real cops, director Alfonso Ruizpalacios (“Museo”), who co-wrote the film with David Gaitán, also has two actors, Mónica Del Carmen and Raúl Briones, who study Teresa and Montoya to play them. . If the movie sounds meta it does, but the movie involving Ruizpalacios examines what drives Mexicans to become cops.
It is not the salary. Police officers make peanuts and some take bribes to supplement their meager income. It’s not for respect. Officers are harassed and spat on by criminals and citizens. And it’s not for security given how much violence permeates their world. One incident can end their career or their life.
“A Cop Movie,” however, shows what agents like Teresa and Montoya face on and off the job, from delivering a baby to chasing down criminals. The film also shows the efforts of the actors to give authentic performances like people they would never be in real life.
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Ruizpalacios spoke to Salon via Zoom about his remarkable documentary / hybrid narrative film.
Before making this film, what was your attitude or your experiences with the Mexican police?
That was pretty much what the attitudes and experiences of most Mexicans are – we meet them daily in the city in many circumstances; when you turn on a red light or there is an accident. There is still this enormous distrust. Raúl says it at one point in the film – and that sums up most people’s attitude towards the police – that when you see the police coming, you don’t feel safe and say, “Thank goodness the police are here. “, you feel the opposite, which is worrying. “Damn, I’m in trouble. These guys are going to try to take money from me,” you don’t know what’s going to happen. It was also my vision of the police before making this film.
How did you find your subjects Teresa and Montoya and trust them to tell their story?
Once we decided to make this police movie, we found them through a process. We were looking for the right characters and interviewed many police officers and academics who had worked with the police. The film had a few key advisers who helped us through the process that worked in law enforcement and also in public policy. It was through one of them that we arrived at Teresa. Someone had interviewed her for a pilot police reform program and told her, “She has some amazing stories you have to hear. I met her for a coffee. She didn’t know what the interview was for, and as soon as she started telling me about her life – she’s one of those people who needs to tell her story – it was love at first sight. She was so lovely and funny and smart and self-deprecating, which I always respond to. More importantly, she wanted to tell the story, and, the fact that there was this love affair in the midst of this very hostile environment, was so appealing and cinematic.
Likewise, how did you choose the actors to play these roles as well? Did Teresa and Montoya meet Monica and Raúl?
Raúl and Mónica only met Teresa and Montoya at the very end [of the shoot]. I wanted to keep the real voices of Teresa and Montoya for the whole movie because I don’t think you can match the way they tell their stories. We needed actors to put bodies to these voices. The actors had both worked in the theater doing these very courageous acting processes where they immersed themselves in the world of the characters. I knew they both had what it took. i knew i needed [actors] who were both courageous but also very skillful.
Like comedians, have you taken police courses to learn more about the experience of police officers during their six months of training? And do you think that’s enough time for someone to learn to police?
No [laughs] I am not that brave. I’m actually unfit for it. I’m too old, they wouldn’t let me in. And I’m probably not fit enough [laughs]. I absolutely think that six months is not enough to learn to police. But that’s how it is in Mexico. It really is like that and it is very disturbing. After six months, you get a badge and a gun and head out into the real world. It is a huge problem. The training of the actors was half of the quarter, three months. It was a demanding process. They went to a third academy which did not make the final cut. They had to sleep there, and it was the hardest academy for them.
“A Cop Movie” is unbiased in your discussion of the police. Teresa admits that there are crooked cops, and that the police are sometimes at fault. There are scenes suggesting that the cops are taking bribes to supplement their meager income. But there’s also the worry that cops have tough jobs, are underpaid, and have to spend money to get a clean vest or a decent police car. Plus, they’re so despised that, as someone in the movie puts it, “nobody cares if they die.” Can you talk about criticism and celebration of the police in your film?
I think you can’t generate empathy in yourself if you don’t look at the whole and recognize the flaws as well as the steeltos, [positives]. This is the main. What we tried to do in the film, and we realized as we went along, that we were dealing with the actor’s main tool, which is empathy. We needed this. It’s interesting to think of empathy as a tool – something useful and powerful, we don’t tend to think of it like that – but it was our tool to get into their minds and under their skin and see. the people behind the uniform. I wasn’t interested in making a movie that made excuses, or pro-police, or “adopt a cop”, that would be absurd and ridiculous. But likewise, it would be pointless to say what one can read in the newspapers about their degree of corruption. Watching human beings was more interesting and trying to represent them in all their complexity. They are contradictory. Some days they do the right thing and some don’t. This is one of the things that we have achieved in the research. The hardest thing to understand is that a Mexican cop can do the right thing and the wrong thing on the same day. It’s crazy to rely on that.
Considering the high risk / reward aspect of this job, why do you think people become cops in Mexico?
I think most of them come out of necessity. It’s a work. And then they realize that it is not enough to make a living, so they turn to corruption to meet their needs. Most of the people we spoke to – and Raúl said – most people are there because it’s a job. They could be driving a bus, or whatever. A small minority are there because they are passionate about law enforcement and learning about the law, and another small part is doing so because it is a family tradition. Most people do it because there are no other opportunities. Some are lucky that their parents lead them down a straight path and they look to that rather than the cartels. I love this story Montoya tells about a friend of his when he was a kid playing cops and thieves – when they met again after many years he had just been released from prison. It’s such a remarkable story that is happening. It’s not literature, it’s Montoya’s life.
You immerse viewers into this world, from your opening sequence (shot largely through the windshield of a police car) to a gorgeous slow-motion scene of a different kind of bravery. In between, you feature a chase scene, a sex scene, along with revelations, rehearsals and reenactments, and narrative surprises. Can you tell us about your stylistic approach to telling this story?
I wanted to go against the typical truth documentary where it’s a handheld that follows the characters around. There are some really nice, important documentaries that have been made that way where it’s more about the subject than the form. I was not interested in this film. I wanted to create a tension between what you hear, and what you see, and for that, there is a kind of dissociation. The audio is completely documentary, it’s the voices of Teresa and Montoya that tell their own story all the time. But what we see is very deliberately staged and shot and this tension that I found so interesting to watch. There is something shocking about hearing someone speak like that but seeing another body performing it in a very stylized way.
It’s a film about work. Not just the work of a cop but also the work of actors. What parallels do you see in their jobs? And what links did you make between Teresa and Montoya meeting Mónica and Raúl?
The connection came because the key was that when I interviewed Teresa and Montoya, they talked about how the concept of performance was part of their lives. Being a cop involves a lot of performance. You put on a costume and play a role. Monica says they play the role of someone strong and are the most vulnerable people. Are they equipped to play this role? Do they have the necessary skills? I think that’s the question the film asks. This idea of performance constantly fascinates me.
“A Cop Movie” airs on Netflix starting Friday, November 5. Watch the trailer below, via YouTube.
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