Overlooked Film of the Week- #67
There have been plenty of movies made about somebody being born into rags, wanting desperately to find the riches. It’s a common story arc in lots of movies, but it doesn’t just limit itself to cinema. We have seen it in books, poems, plays, radio, songs, everywhere. Who has not imagined themselves living in a giant mansion with all the necessities of being an awesome rich person? I know I am guilty of it, are you? I have come to appreciate the story arc, as it frequently appears in lots of my favorite films. I have a deep fondness for gangster movies, which has that storytelling device in nearly every movie in that genre. A few weeks ago on this column, I wrote about “Boiler Room,” which dealt in this same ground. Those movies, even the gangster movies to some extent, end with a somewhat happy ending. Even if they don’t, there is a thrilling, fun energy to those films. Nothing at all like “Miss Bala,” which I watched last week.
“Miss Bala” takes you to the darkest depths of trying to find a better place for yourself in the world, just to end up in a worse situation. It’s a movie so jet-black, so personal and so painful at the same time that almost feels like it leaves scares. Director Gerardo Naranjo is taking a very different perspective when it comes to this story arc. He does not give you a happy ending. He does not try to thrill you. He does not try to butter up anything about his characters or the story he wants to tell. This movie is bad situations after bad situations, and Naranjo is determined to make every situation feel desperate, feel authentic, feel real and he does so with superb fashion. Not only that, but the film is a loss of innocence and it is shattering to behold.
This film centers on Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman), a 23-year-old girl living in the slums of Mexico. She wants a way out, she wants something more than the poor hand she has been dealt. She also happens to recognize that she is very beautiful, so she enters a beauty pageant, hoping to represent her state and receive the big title. When Laura and her friend are accepted into the pageant, they go out celebrating, and her friend just happens to be partying with some undercover DEA agents. At a crucial moment, Laura goes to the bathroom, and she hears members of a drug cartel sneaking into the club, and they gun down the DEA agents, as well as Laura’s friend. Laura is then stalked by the Lino (Noe Hernandez), the leader of this drug cartel and he forcibly takes her under his wing and in doing so Lino will make sure that Laura wins the beauty pageant.
“Miss Bala” is definitely a movie about being WAY over your head. All Laura wanted to do was to build her own portion of the world for herself and she ends up becoming everyone else’s pawn in a sprawling game of cops and robbers. I think Sigman carries the movie in a way nobody else her age could. There is an innocence she attaches to her performance that I don’t think ever disappears, especially once her character begins to come-of-age. It is a blistering, sad and heartbreaking performance. Honestly, I am shocked I don’t know more about this actress after seeing this film. I like the way that Naranjo directed Sigman in nearly all of her scenes. There is a POV device that seems present, but the film never feels like a POV movie. It is really cool and unique in the way it is directed. I want to give both Sigman and Naranjo extreme credit for making something feel so unique without doing anything out of the box or out of left field. This is a capturing of lightning and a powerful remind of the power of cinema. I also have to say that the work done by Noe Hernandez is equally great and mostly terrifying. I can’t remember a greasier, slimy, sleazy, bad guy in a movie like this, and it seems that Hernandez relished every moment of it.
“Miss Bala” maybe simple at its core but it is an example of something done well and the authentic feel of the film is almost unbearable. I will be catching up on my special columns to day and maybe tomorrow, so keep an eye out.