Miss Bala (Day 55)

Miss BalaMy Opinion: 6.4 || A point-of-view immersion into Mexico’s drug wars that emphasizes subjective experience over narrative structure or character development. The protagonist Laura is buffeted by circumstances she can’t control or understand, and we share her disorientation. The cost of this extreme subjectivity, though, is that the film provides very little insight into Laura or the larger drug war.

TITLE: Miss Bala
DIRECTOR: Gerardo Naranjo
LANGUAGE: Spanish | COUNTRY: Mexico
YEAR: 2011
PROFILE: Crime Drama | 113 minutes | IMDb (6.5)

SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of Netflix): Determined to escape the poverty of her hometown, Laura enters a beauty pageant. But after she inadvertently witnesses a gangland massacre, she becomes a pawn in a violent game between the gang’s brutal leader, his rivals and American DEA agents.

Miss Bala

Strengths and Weaknesses: As the movie unfolds, the director Gerardo Naranjo’s mission becomes clear: The protagonist Laura is a stand-in for average Mexicans whose lives have being torn apart by warring forces in the drug war. One bad moment leads to another bad moment, and she can’t get out. It’s not about helping us make sense of the drug war — it’s about drowning us in the war’s senselessness.

The film delivers none of the elements we tend to expect (explanations, connections, clear stakes), only increasing debasement and confusion. Naranjo consistently shoots from point-of-view angles that deprive us of any wider perspective. Things explode and we don’t know why. Characters die without our having known who they are. Confusing orders lead to confusing outcomes.

Miss Bala

This chaos comes at a predictable narrative cost. Laura is a sympathetic victim. But she’s not ever more than that. And senseless is fine, but nonsensical isn’t, which is what we reach at the end, when the behavior of the criminals and police (there’s no difference) become flat-out illogical or impossible. That’s unfortunate because it’s not really true that there’s nothing to understand about the drug war or the participants in it. Naranjo succeeds in communicating — very palpably — the war’s senselessness, but it would have been a greater achievement to do that while also providing some measure of insight.

Miss Bala

Characters and Tone: At no point does Naranjo sinks into battering Laura (or us) simply for the visceral thrill of it. The film’s violence is unflinching but never fatuously graphic or gratuitous. And it’s important to stress that although Laura is under-explored as a character, she remains convincingly human and more than a device.

File Under: drug war, gangs, corruption, point of view, disorientation, Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico