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Friday, July 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Police Beat" captures the world of a lovesick Seattle bicycle cop

Seattle Times movie critic

MOVIE REVIEW 3 stars

"Lovesickness is pain," muses a bicycle cop known only as Z. "It has physicality."

"Police Beat," a dreamlike drama from Seattle filmmaker Robinson Devor, is a study in lovesickness, of the way in which thwarted love can leave us feeling terribly alone. Z (Pape Sidy Niang) pedals his bike through the city of Seattle on his rounds, observing crimes both ghastly and bizarre, and he never quite seems to connect to them.

In the opening scenes, as shimmery music plays, we see a corpse floating in a lake. Z stares at the body, but doesn't see it; he's thinking of his girlfriend Rachel (Anna Oxygen), who is away on a camping trip with another man. We see her curly smile as she bids Z goodbye, and the memory pains him, more so than the dead body before his eyes.

Z, a West African whose voice-overs are in his native language of Wolof, is the most remote of heroes. As he rides his bicycle, he's filmed from slightly below and seems to be floating free in a sea of green leaves and blue sky, never connecting to the ground.

The film, co-written by Devor and Seattle writer Charles Mudede, likewise floats along loosely, as we follow Z through a week's worth of working days and lonely nights. And its dreamlike state makes for mesmerizing viewing.

Though we never quite understand Z's obsession with Rachel (who is shown only in brief flashbacks and voicemail messages, and never really emerges as a character), we're drawn into his world. His frustration is palpable: At one point, he screams to the world his qualifications as a boyfriend, on a pedestrian overpass. "Most women would find that to be an attractive man!" he yells miserably. At night, he sleeps with his phone on the pillow next to him. It doesn't ring.

Movie review

Showtimes 3 stars

"Police Beat," with Pape Sidy Niang, Anna Oxygen, Eric Breedlove, Sarah Hartlett, Elijah Geiger. Directed by Robinson Devor, from a screenplay by Devor and Charles Mudede. 80 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains sexuality and drug use). Varsity, through Thursday. Devor and Mudede will be at tonight's screenings.

Niang, a former soccer player and first-time actor, isn't always at ease with dialogue, but he's a reassuring presence, coming across as a man of character: quiet, kind (at one point, he offers to help take care of a junkie's baby) yet distant. His mellow deadpan tempers the strange and sometimes disturbing crimes that he's called upon to investigate (all of which were based on real events from Mudede's "Police Beat" crime column in The Stranger); because he's not affected by them, neither are we. A bloody corpse is found in a strangely white room; a man rips the head off a dying bird; another eats raw meat in a supermarket.

The movie's dreamlike state is heightened by the beautiful cinematography of Sean Kirby, who shows us a Seattle unlike any seen on film before. Here, our city becomes a lush green wonderland, in which anything can happen; a place of mysterious beauty.

A few twilight shots are startlingly vivid, in which the dark, rough-hewn blue of Lake Washington merges with the color of the sky. And the city's landmarks are used artfully: Z pedals to the top of the hill at Gas Works Park (filmed from below, it looks like it just might be the edge of the world); marches purposefully through the reflection pool at the Chapel of St. Ignatius; and chases through the crowds at Green Lake, where the late-day sun flickering through the trees becomes a symphony of light.

Z is our quiet guide through all of this, revealing his thoughts in a constant voice-over. At night, he writes up reports of what he has seen that day; one, about a disturbed man, could apply just as well to himself.

"No one in Seattle can help this man," he writes, in his careful, precise English. "He is in a lonely place."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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