Not all the movies have entertainment for their sole purpose. The Hollywood model is only a portion of the artistic landscape of cinema. If you take a peek outside, you'll find movies that aim to shock and expose terrible truth about things that really happen in this world. That's what fiction does best, after all. Offers answers to a string of complex questions. Mexican movie MISS BALA isn't a "fun" viewing per se, but it leaves you with the feeling you did something important. Most important, it's a political movie that tackles the principal issue Mexico has been dealing with for the past decade, organized crime. So it's quite a contract of expectations just for a viewing, but MISS BALA is done with enough sensibility and craftsmanship to make it worth your while, as long as you can stomach arthouse cinema. I can, so I quite dug it.
Laura (Stephanie Sigman) is dreaming of becoming Miss Baja, the official beauty queen of her region of Mexico. She signs up for the contest with her friend wayward Azucena (Lakshmi Picazo), who's ready to do anything to win. They go to a party with "connected people" to try and help their cause (where the worst song in the world plays), but another faction crashes the party and massacres everyone. Laura is left alive against all odds, but unsure about her friend's fate, she runs back into the organized crime's embrace trying to find her. Their leader Lino (Noe Hernandez) quickly develops affection for her, so he decides to start using her instead of getting rid of her. Laura's fate falls into his hands and she becomes involved with organized crime on a deeper and deeper level.
What MISS BALA is trying to say is clear. If every girl have the same dream, the cost of its fulfillment isn't the same everywhere. Laura's life is crumbling around her, yet she manages to keep going having in mind to save Azucena and be a beauty queen. Director Gerard Naranjo relies on his lead actress Stephanie Sigman A LOT to carry those unsaid, dying dreams over and she delivers. You can see her innocence being drained from her through her big, beautiful brown eyes. It's a bit of the movie's strength and weakness as Naranjo overdoes it. There are way too many long shots of a desperate Laura staring into the void, so it hampers its tremendous dramatic effect.
You have to brace yourself for the film structure also, which I quite enjoyed personally, but I'm a sucker for slow, atmospheric films and am aware it's not everybody's cup of tea. There are several long, travelling, sometimes sequence shots and if you don't enjoy those, you're going to find MISS BALA as jarring as it gets. But I found hispanic cinema to be often like that (to my personal experience, anyway). It's stripped down, raw and often of the utmost efficiency for discussing the horrors of the real world. MISS BALA is just a tad overblown for what it's trying to say, but it still carries its point across with admirable efficiency. It's not for every sensibilities, but if you can stomach an emotional meat grinder and haunting performances, it has a lot to offer, for what it is.
I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.