Directed by Gerardo Naranjo, Miss Bala explores the hidden world of drug trafficking in Mexico through an unexpected medium.
Miss Bala features some visceral performances and hard-hitting truths in its nigh two hour run time. Exploring Mexico’s organised crime circles through an unlikely heroine, the film throws two conflicting worlds together and lets the consequences unfold organically.
We’re introduced to the film’s protagonist Laura (Stephanie Sigman) as she dreams of becoming the titular beauty pageant winner. She enters the competition with her best friend and giddily dreams of what the future holds. Her life is changed forever when the club she is leaving is filled with gun-toting criminals. Although she escapes, she finds herself embroiled in the criminal underworld when she starts asking questions and she soon finds herself deeply involved in the world of drug trafficking and murder.
Miss Bala is graceful, revelling in its slow pans and lingering shots. It prefers to let the film’s story tell itself, using musical accompaniment rarely. This simplistic approach sometimes, rather detrimentally, distracts from the story and its lack of obvious revelation often confuses whilst its tendency to focus on an irrelevant object, whilst refreshing, diverts attention away from what is happening. What this technique does encourage is an empathy with the titular pageant entrant, with us sharing her confusion and distraction.
Laura is enigmatic and her wants are often blurred. Her silence in the face of barbarity helps further this impression and we’re often left wondering what her intentions really are. She mutely goes along with her captor’s wishes and seems to forget her friend moments after enquiring about her. The threat of rape is present throughout the film but the danger seems somewhat diminished by Laura’s silence. There’s a believable awkwardness in her presenting herself at the pageant she once so desperately wanted to win but the inclusion of this beauty contest slows the film’s pace down.
Miss Bala is a film that makes successes of its downfalls. In its mixing of crime and beauty it highlights the double standards apparent in society. In its slow burning narrative it aids the sense of oppression felt by Laura. Its bleak ending confirms that life isn’t always as perfect as a beauty pageant would have you believe.