Directed by Gerardo Naranjo
Starring Stephanie Sigman, Irene Azuela, Jose Yenque
Review by Jordan
Taking a candid, verite approach to the abhorrent violence and influence of the Mexican drug cartels, Miss Bala, while never quite as powerful or successful as it promises to be, none the less represents an important film secondarily showcasing the powerlessness of one person entrapped in a dangerous world whose only escape is death, or a life quite possibly worse.
Laura Guerro (the striking Stephanie Sigman) wishes for nothing more than to be the winner of a beauty pageant and be crowned Miss Bala, eventually signing up for the event with friend Suzu against her father’s wishes. Despite Laura’s awkwardness, both in immediate appearance and conversation, both are accepted, but this joy is short lived as a party later that night they attend turns to bloody chaos when an army of drug traffickers descend through the air ducts, killing the drug enforcement officials and kidnapping Suzu and others. Hiding in the bathroom, Laura is spotted by one of the cartel members but to her surprise left alone to escape.
The next day she pleads with a police officer to help her find Suzu and tells him of the party. In a corrupt border city, this is a mistake that does eventually lead to her winning the title of Miss Bala, but also puts her father and younger brother in serious danger, and immediately seals her fate.
Thrilling, insightful and endowed with unglorified, sudden acts of violence, this is a film that while hard to love is easy to respect. Gerardo Naranjo documents the proceedings in a fashion that becomes mildly confusing, especially given no character is ever formally introduced and the plot points never properly explained, but given we are witnessing the events from Laura’s despairing point-of-view this chaos is understandable and relevant. It is also refreshing seeing this Hellish world from the Mexican perspective, rather than another exploitive American actioneer littered with unfortunate stereotypes and wafts of racism.
In retrospect, Miss Bala seemingly begins and ends without adhering to a basic film structure of 3 defined acts or placing any importance on rounding characters or providing its audience with a proper introduction, and it in no way attempts to apologise for it. The viewer is presented solely with Laura, and like an over-zealous American agent she encounters who meets an especially gruesome demise, pulled along for the ride she is taken on.
3.5 bribed beauty pageant officials out of 5