Cornerhouse LiveWire Critic Jay Crosbie reviews Miss Bala
Socio-Politics and the city have gone hand in hand for years: La Haine and City of God are both examples of this. Yet Gerardo Naranjo has carved a certain sort of niche for his latest effort; a peculiar fusion of Miss Congeniality, A Prophet with a hint of Alice in Wonderland to create something that crackles and fizzes but never quite explodes. The film follows poverty stricken Laura Guerrero (StephanieSigman) a hopeful Miss Baja Calfornia, who whilst attending a gangland discowith her friend gets caught in the cross fire and taken by an opposing gang and used as their drug runner and money mule due to her ravishing beauty. We see the action unfold in front of us through the eyes of Laura.
Miss Bala burst on to the scene with critical acclaim at Cannes and it’s not hard to see why. Your expectations are always subverted, the plot moves so fast it could cause whiplash and all is anchored down by a sombre performance by relativenewbie Sigman who plays Laura. In fact, each individual piece of Miss Bala is so well designed it’s such a shame they don’t always fit together with ease. The main fault of Miss Bala is its break neck speed, whilst it gives the film a sense a pace it also gives it a rushed feel. Relationships (Laura and her best friend Suzu is a perfect example of this, we see her for about ten minutes and the film expects us to care for her well being for the rest of the film) and possible characteristics are touched upon that could have emphasised the pathos but instead they’re forced to take the back seat meaning Miss Bala as a finished project feels more like the cliff notes to a superior film. Similarly, the film loses itself around the half way mark and struggles to find its feet till the bullet strewn climax.
However, this can all be slightly brushed over due to Sigman’s absolutely sucker punch performance. Not many of us know the workings of the Baja drug scene (or so I hope) and making the protagonist someone who is equally unaware gives the film a sense of anticipation; like waiting for the floor beneath your feet to drop. Similarly, Laura’s lack of verbal communication could have meant painful dull silence for the audience but Sigman rescues this with subtle facial expressions. We understand her pain without her ever muttering a word, and this with the added layer of reputability Laura receives for being our equally unaware protagonist makes for a weighty performance.
Miss Bala seems like Naranjo’s platform to discuss Mexican social politics on an international level, which he does well. He effectively gives a glimpse into a culture not many have any idea exists. It’s just a shame he felt the need to rush it. This could have been something truly extraordinary but alas ends up being something commendable.