Today: February 25, 2024

Miss Bala

As the Mexican entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, Miss Bala is all that you would expect when it comes to a depiction of the grizzly underworld of Tijuana.

As the Mexican entry
for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, Miss Bala is all that you would expect when it comes to a depiction
of the grizzly underworld of Tijuana.
With an eye for realistic photography
director Gerardo Naranjo, crucially,
has not ignored the importance of having a central performance for the audience
to invest in. As amongst all the dirt and deplorable activity is an absorbing
character at its heart. And without it Miss
would feel hollow and repetitive.

Loosely based on the real events of a state beauty pageant
in Mexico and a prospective beauty queen who became implicated with a gang of gunrunners,
Miss Bala sounds, on the face of it,
something of a B-movie re-hash that the likes of Quentin Tarantino or Robert
would make. Don’t be deceived however, as the overall atmosphere
of the film is much more in line with the independent spirited crime/gang
thrillers of Latin-American cinema.

There are less of the obvious Hollywood formulas to the plot
and the cinematography has observant angles and perspectives that make for
refreshing viewing. One early scene in particular has a voyeuristic feel whilst
a murderous break-in at a nightclub ensues. Naranjo crafts shots over people’s
shoulders and peering round corners, placing the viewer within the scene. As
the first hour progresses the camera is predominantly still, long tracking
shots and close ups focus on the inhabitants of this crime ridden place. Beauty
queen Laura is also as emotionless and blank as some of the camerawork, almost
as if she is already immune to the evil of her surroundings.

Stephanie Sigman’s
performance as Laura may frustrate some as she appears rather ambivalent to her
constant exploitation at the hands of a vile gang, but this is less a revenge
film and more a actual representation of those afflicted by the lawlessness of
some of Mexico’s cities. Laura is a victim and victims like her don’t always
receive justice or vengeance.

As pulsating as some of the first hour’s sequences are, the
second hour falls into a regrettable lull of over kinetic set pieces that rely
on an ever-increasing nastiness in nature. One suspects that the fairly thin
plot is at fault here as the tone moves from the more atmospheric to the more
action-orientated. There have certainly been better foreign language films this
past year, but few have been as interesting.

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