BFI London Film Festival 2011: ‘Miss Bala’


Miss Bala (2011) is the latest film from Mexican director Gerado Naranjo, starring the stunningly beautiful Stephanie Sigman. Sigman plays Laura, a young woman who struggles to make it in the ‘Miss Bala’ beauty pageant and consequently find herself embroiled in the Mexican mafia. Forced into this nightmarish underworld, Laura is forced to aid the drug-trafficking, gun-touting mobsters under the condition that they will help her win the contest.

Miss Bala delves deep into the politics of the Mexican underworld, exposing the deep-seeded corruption that drags innocent bystanders into the underworld with the promise of a better life. Stylistically, the film’s action sequences are reminiscent of Michael Mann’s 1995 hit Heat, mashed with a distinctly Mexican cinematic approach. The camerawork is for the majority hand-held, lending a sense of immediacy to the on-screen action that is incredibly captivating.

Sigman’s performance as Laura is exacting – she allows subtle facial expressions to demonstrate the fear and incomprehension of the situation she finds herself in. Mob boss Lino Valdez (Noe Hernandez) is also a perfect villain of the piece, offering a brutal performance that psychologically and physically manipulates Laura. The word to describe Naranjo’s film would be raw, the action restrained yet brutal, and the sexual element of the plot is dealt with in a mature and impacting fashion.

Miss Bala’s succeeds in touching upon the sexist culture of Mexico, where women are exploited as sexual objects in order escape the mediocrity lives which is due to the subjection by sleazy men on both sides of the law. The pageant of the title acts as a glossy reflection of the country’s current attitude towards corruption, the fact that Laura is unwilling dragged into both the beauty contest and the criminal underworld shows the lack of choice the average citizen has, resulting in numerous victims.

Miss Bala works incredibly well a political commentary, whilst remaining a highly entertaining piece of cinema. Once again, world cinema has demonstrated that a big budget and a well-known cast are not necessarily what is needed to make great cinema.

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Joe Walsh