Impressive crime drama from Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo
Maria Full of Grace meets Heat in this absorbing thriller from Mexican writer/director Gerardo Naranjo (I’m Gonna Explode), whose title translates as ‘Miss Bullet’. Laura (newcomer Stephanie Sigman) is a young working-class woman living in the border city of Baja who enters the state beauty pageant. Having witnessed a nightclub massacre involving off-duty police officers, she is kidnapped by drugs baron Lino (Noe Hernandez), whose gang La Estrella is waging war against the authorities. In return for her winning the competition, she has to act as a mule for Lino: if she refuses her family will be executed.
It’s how Naranjo and his Hungarian cinematographer Matyas Erdely shoot their material which gives Miss Bala its compelling distinctiveness. They heighten their protagonist’s fear and confusion by frequently shooting her from behind and favouring near focus images, avoiding more conventional close-ups. The inventive sound design further amplifies her disorientation, whilst the set-piece gun battles between the gangsters and the cops are impressively photographed in long takes. The film itself represents a powerful critique of a society riddled by high-level corruption and lethal violence, in which Laura’s nightmarish plight is a metaphor for the chaos endured by ordinary Mexican people in the disastrous war against drugs.
GFT, Glasgow and Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 28 Oct.