I woke up yesterday morning and decided to start the day with a small crime film. Something pulpy, trashy and, above all things, easy. Miss Bala (Miss Baja, in Spanish) sounded like a safe bet – a poor, young Mexican girl who is unwillingly thrown into the corrupt world of drug trafficking and petty crime via a state beauty paegent. Unfortunately, this 2011 Cannes’ favourite was more tough than me, my mean hangover, and bowl of muesli could stomach.
Directed and co-written by Gerando Naranjo, Miss Bala intends to be a social commentary on the grave nature of underground crime across Latin America. Yet it is almost completely depoliticised. With a frenzied visual style much akin to his North American contemporary Quentin Tarantino, Naranjo’s film borders on exploitation cinema, invasively focusing on one girl’s ordeal. It’s quite a slog trying to make it all cinematically engaging, but Naranjo strikes miniature genius in the casting of Mexican model Stephanie Sigman as the wide-eyed wannabe Laura Guerrero, and Noé Hernández as her vile, kingpin boss Lino Valdez. Two gruelling performances with enough gritty chemistry to keep you enthralled to the bitter end.
In comparison to the narratively similar to Joshua Marston’s Oscar winning Columbian drama Maria Full of Grace, Miss Bala lacks emotional depth; focusing on inflicting sympathy in the audience rather than compassion for the distraught heroine carrying the scene. Although the story here is full bodied, I spent half the movie concerned whether or not we would see Laura get to avenge the horrific ordeal she endures, rather than get caught up in it myself. I’ll leave that conclusion at your disposal. I’d recommend you see the film, but don’t expect to enjoy it.