"A.C.A.B": In the Captivity of a Profession

in 34th Moscow International Film Festival

by György Kárpáti

One of the most disturbing pictures of the competition section of this year’s Moscow International Film Festival was without a doubt A.C.A.B. – All Cops Are Bastards. Even the title of the movie provokes the viewer, and director Stefano Sollima goes much further and looks far deeper than the surface. Obviously Sollima was helped a lot by the fact he was a CNN cameraman for years. We can see how his professional background has influenced the style of the movie, with him using a handheld camera to provide a suffocating atmosphere.

A.C.A.B. – All Cops Are Bastards looks like a kind of action movie from the first images: the story is about the controversial Italian riot police and the difficulties of the job. We see the way they try to balance their profession and personal lives — the verdict being that, for riot cops, they ultimately can’t be separated. They are ready to help each other in their private life difficulties. We see different lives; lost and lonely souls who are desperate off-duty and not able to adapt to society after their stressful daily routine. The cops’ personalities seem to be different but their profession makes them very similar. We also see the fine line that they have to be very careful of every second and that they overstep almost all of the time. It’s frustrating to watch A.C.A.B., but it seems to be true that the riot cop is a kind of outlaw of society that is accepted neither by hooligans nor by the state that provides their paycheck every week.

Fortunately Sollima does not judge, and is able to keep a distance from his subject. He leaves everything to the viewer. We can make of this what we like, but it’s impossible not to fall under the sway of the film. That’s why it is very hard to sympathize with the protagonists, who are antagonists at the same time. The profession is controversial, but A.C.A.B. helps us at least to see both sides and motivations without having to side with one. It’s very sad to watch A.C.A.B. — to see the nasty world we live in and the irreducible cruelty of society.

And, after all, A.C.A.B. starts to work on a very different level in the viewer’s mind — and that’s the real result of the movie. We transcend the basic story of A.C.A.B. and start to widen our horizon. The problems in the film are not related to Italian society but are common issues around Europe. The universal message was appreciated by the FIPRESCI jury, which awarded Stefano Sollima’s fine picture with the FIPRESCI prize. And even if it’s a coincidence or maybe a surprise, the Russian film critics’ jury awarded A.C.A.B. also. It appears that critics have the same thoughts and taste watching A.C.A.B.