As a dreamlike dramatization of the disconnection between the inner thoughts of a lovelorn cop and everyday events on his Seattle patrols, “Police Beat” ranges from deadpan absurdity to heartfelt melancholy, with occasional forays into drudgery, random violence and purposeful brutality. It’s easy to respect helmer Robinson Devor (“The Woman Chaser”) and co-scripter Charles Mudede for the sheer audacity that fuels their experimental amalgam of style and content. Distinctive, physically ravishing indie is a natural for fests, but it’s questionable whether this sometimes involving, sometimes obscure pic will have appeal beyond the specialty market.
Non-pro Pape Sidy Niang, former member of the Senegalese Junior World Cup Soccer Team, evidences arresting camera presence in the lead role of Z, a recent immigrant newly hired as a bicycle cop in Seattle. He encounters and duly catalogues a wide variety of high crimes and misdemeanors while he pedals, preoccupied by thoughts of his possibly unfaithful American girlfriend (Anna Oxygen). Even while he surveys the bloody trail that leads to a battered corpse, or wades into choppy waters to retrieve a suicidal swimmer, Z continues to obsess over the possibility that his beloved is trysting with a male companion on a camping trip.
Mudede reportedly incorporated into “Police Beat” many incidents he reported as a crime-blotter columnist for the Stranger, a Seattle alt-weekly. He and Devor alternate between merely odd happenstances (man eats raw meat in grocery store, woman reports intruder that turns out to be fallen tree branch) and seriously violent outrages, while detailing Z’s day-to-day routine.
But Z remains emotionally distanced from even the worst mayhem, a fact reinforced by his character serving as a virtually nonstop narrator in his native language, Wolof, for most of the pic. Filmmakers thoughtfully provide English subtitles, but separation between words and images is sustained.
A few of the infrequent scenes in which Z actually converses with another character are darkly comical. Cop sounds like a cross between Jack Webb and a wistful philosopher when he warns a property owner in accented English: “Your tree is dead. And if it is not chopped down, it will continue to harm and disturb the living.” Later, Z responds angrily to a whack-job’s angry tirade against U.S. government: “Hey! Threatening the life of the President is threatening my life, too!”
“Police Beat” might have benefited from the inclusion of more similarly humorous material, and deletion of pointless digressions that neither involve nor affect Z.
Continuity is not the pic’s strong point: Subplots involving a drug-addicted prostitute (Sarah Harlett) and Z’s fellow bike cop (Eric Breedlove) are too muddled to have emotional resonance, and wind up being petty annoyances.
Many colorful bit players, some glimpsed only briefly, make valuable contributions. Sean Kirby’s evocative widescreen lensing of disparate Seattle locations is a major plus.