A black West African man (Pape Sidy Niang), nicknamed Z, has made his home in Seattle where he works as a bicycle cop. It’s a serious job mildly undermined by definition. (It’s hard to maintain an air of authority when your uniform includes shorts and a bike helmet.) But this is the Pacific Northwest—a locale Police Beat uses as a dreamy, sometimes queasy, backdrop—and “mildly undermined” comes with the territory. Z has a white girlfriend, who, like much of the film itself, exists on the margins of mystery. She has either left him or gone on a prolonged trip. They communicate via crossed voice mail messages that prompt cryptic and fragmentary onscreen flashbacks. The days pass in a series of police-work investigations—a string of vaguely hallucinatory (or plainly absurd) crime scenes. (According to the end credits all “events” are taken from actual Seattle police reports.) Z seems to morally calibrate the incidents and incorporate them into his own sense of self as the film utilizes evocative voiceover to transmit his mental states. He speaks English to those around him, but when he thinks, it’s in Wolof, his native tongue. (The audience reads subtitles.) Cycling across one of the many verdant lost-in-thought expanses he ponders: “Who am I? I am a problem solver. Why? Because I have all these problems.” Solving them—at least those of the criminals and victims to which the job takes him—simply underlines the fact that solutions to his own interpersonal problems elude him. It’s as if the nefarious quandaries of the crimes can somehow complete him—but will do so only through the power of the film’s visual poetry, and the extraordinary soundtrack that deftly oscillates between the likes of Satie and the Aphex Twin. Z has become trapped, as it were, within an art form.
Directed by Robinson Devor, Police Beat is an object so gorgeously odd, and so completely at peace with its own oddness, it’s hard to compare it to anything else. One could say a kinder, gentler David Lynch, but that skews the emphasis a little too much toward the shock of the otherworldly. Devor steps into Lynchian Americana, but chooses to keep one foot in the real. The result is a deceptively quiet, and completely genuine, thing of beauty.
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