Cannes 2011 Review: Gerardo Naranjo's Riveting Thriller 'Miss Bala'
by Alex Billington
May 15, 2011
It has been an incredible year at Cannes and this is yet another film to add to my growing list of those that surprised and amazed me; another favorite. Coming from Mexican writer/director Gerardo Naranjo is a riveting new drama called Miss Bala, more of a thriller about a young 23-year-old beauty pageant wannabe (played by Stephanie Sigman) who mistakenly gets caught up in the insane world of organized crime in Mexico. I say insane because, well, there's crazy things that happen. It starts quickly and never lets up, pushing forwarded relentlessly and barely giving the audience a chance to take a breath. It was exhilarating.
Laura Guerrero (Sigman) is a young, beautiful Mexican girl who dreams of winning the Miss Baja beauty pageant (hence the title). One night when she meets up with her friend at a local party, she watches as a group of criminals break in and take out most of the party in an organized hit. They find her hiding in a corner, but let her go, until she encounters them the next morning. At this point she's involved and they can't let her go. The leader of the group, named Lino, seems to take a liking to her and starts sending her on missions in a very well-coordinated method of undermining the police and disorienting their attempts to find them. Part of what amazed me is seeing how intricate and complex these group of criminals were.
Many years ago I was introduced to a film called City of God. I didn't know what it was at first, but when I watched it, it completely changed my perspective on film. Miss Bala comes close to reaching the heights of City of God, but not quite. Naranjo has a brilliant filmmaking sensibility that was the key component that made this so impressive. His cinematography was exquisite, with a lot of single-take long shots with an edgy, gritty realistic style; it was required necessity for the authenticity and worked perfectly. He pulls the audience into this world and never lets them go, bringing us along for the crazy ride Guerrero unwillingly ended up in, while also allowing us to get a sense of her emotions and struggle to escape.
The end result is an enthralling, nerve-wracking and often-times intense thrill ride that wowed me. I never once found myself wondering when it would end. Watching these criminals work and coordinate hits over walkie-talkies, while still centering the story around Guerrero, was riveting. I wanted to see more. I didn't want it to end, just like I didn't want City of God to end. But after seeing how violent and ruthless they were, I completely understand why it had to end, as it does have a message. Miss Bala is a film that deserves international acclaim as Naranjo found an edge to make this incredible. Find this film as soon as possible.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 9 out of 10