Published Sep 09, 2011Miss Bala is a study in contrasts, combining the world of the traditional beauty pageant with the blood-soaked Mexican drug trade. While the film focuses on the personal story of one woman ― a wide-eyed pageant contestant named Laura Gurerro (Stephanie Sigman), who gets caught in the crossfire ― it also acts as an impassioned, anguished shout at the violence and insanity that has erupted within the last decade over Mexico's inability to deal with what essentially amounts to a small-scale civil war.
As a survivor of a shoot-out at a border town bar, Laura finders herself running with a highly organized drug crew, who seem to use her not only as a witness, but as an inconspicuous shield for offensive manoeuvres, evading the police and cross-border trafficking. Laura can do little but go along with her captors' whims, essentially in fear for her life every waking moment. Yet, in an absurd twist, her mysterious masked keepers also realize her worth and fix the beauty pageant, parachuting the mysterious contestant into an obviously bogus victory.
Director Gerardo Naranjo's work is steeped in detail. The drug trade is run with ruthless efficiency, like a small army, rendering local police largely ineffective, and Sigman is our conduit, caught in the middle, relating every insane experience and violent close shave, making Laura's anxiety palpable with her expressive eyes. Much like the audience, Laura is thrust into a world she can't control and can only observe in order to stay alive.
Miss Bala ("Miss Bullet") is a riveting and violent slice of the desperate days in modern Mexico. As the body count escalates the country struggles to survive under the thumb of the insatiable appetite of its Northern neighbour. Never moralistic or preachy, Miss Bala is nevertheless an inherently political film. Naranjo has done an excellent job revealing the depth of corruption in Mexico, from the highest levels downwards.
Much like the way Laura is bounced around like a hopeless pinball, Miss Bala shows a country locked in a brutal turf war that will seemingly only end in complete destruction. (Mongrel Media)