Gerardo Naranjo (Mexico, 19##) debuted with Malachance (2004).
After the mediocre DramaMex (2006), that overlaps three stories,
Voy a Explotar/ I'm Gonna Explode (2008), reminiscent of Godard's Pierrot le Fou.
Miss Bala (2011) is a gangster movie of sorts, except that it places
at the center of the action a young helpless woman and the entire action is
shown through her eyes.
She is the victim, not the gangster. She is abducted and forced to collaborate.
She gets shot at twice and she can only crouch in fear.
She inhabits an amoral universe of brutal gangsters and corrupted cops.
she is a bystander in the middle of a colossal eruption of violence
whose causes she cannot understand.
Indirectly, the film delivers a riveting social fresco of a rotten society,
and emanates a feeling of powerlessness for ordinary people
(the girl has absolutely noone to turn to for help).
The plot lies somewhere between a perverted version of "Alice in Wonderland"
and Hitchcock's suspense thrillers in which a helpless naive person is the
victim of a global conspiracy.
Despite her father's reservations,
a young woman, Laura, leaves her family's home in the suburbs of a Mexican
city to go to the audition for beauty
pageant with her friend Suzu. They are selected and plan to spend the night at
a club where Suzu thinks they can seduce men who have an influence on the
outcome of the pageant. Laura doesn't like the idea and is ready to leave but,
just when she has convinced Suzu, the club is attacked by gunmen who are
after those influential men. Laura sees them carry away corpses in plastic
bags. She escapes and later tries to find Suzu, but in vain. She misses her
appointment for the pageant training and the manager kicks her out of the
competition. She then approaches
a traffic cop who is parked outside. Initially, he doesn't want to help her,
then, when he hears that she was in the middle of the shootout, he decides to
give her a ride to the police station; except that, instead, he takes her to
the very nest of the gang: she is a dangerous witness. She is taken blindfolded
to meet the gang's leader, Lino. Instead of killing her, he asks her to help
him with a little job, which she does without objecting, aware that her only
chance of survival is to do everything that she is asked to do.
Lino asks her what she does for a living and she replies that she was trying
to enter the pageant to make some money. Lino makes a call and Laura is
admitted again to the context by the very same woman who kicked her out.
Lino is not doing it out of charity: when she thanks him, he extends his hand
between her legs. She manages to escape and (apparently having forgotten
about Suzu and not too traumatized by her recent events) she walks into
a high-end fashion store to buy a dress for the pageant. Her cell phone rings:
Lino is calling. She runs out and walks home while explosions are shaking the
city and police trucks are driving towards the center. Two cars stop in front
of her and armed men chase her, some of them speaking English.
They don't harm her, they just take her cell phone.
Back home she listens to the news on television: Lino has survived another
shootout with the police, and the police has found a vehicle in front of
the US embassy with some dead bodies (including a young woman who is
presumably Suzu, but Laura doesn't make the connection).
That is the car that Lino asked Laura to drive for him
(ironically, it sounds like Laura had her best friend Suzu in the trunk of
that car). The other bodies were US agents fighting Lino's drug cartel.
Laura has time to take a shower and then Lino shows up at her door.
He is limping because of a bullet in his leg. His men join him and they
set up base in Laura's base. Lino asks Laura to go on a mission for the gang and
in return allows her father and brother to leave the house unharmed.
She keeps walking around in her shower robe despite all the gangsters in the
house. It is Lino who eventually orders her to dress properly and she
changes clothes in front of him. This, of course, arouses him
she obediently lies next to him on the bed. Later he
straps money to her body and instructs her to smuggle it across
the border to the USA and come back with a truck. She accepts without saying
a word. She obediently identifies the man who took her cell phone from a set
of pictures that Lino shows her.
Laura is taken by plane to the USA and given the keys of a truck;
but, when she reenters Mexico, all hell breaks loose and she is caught in
Nonetheless, Lino and his men manage to save Laura and retrieve the shipment.
She has barely time to breath that she is back to the pageant,
wearing a sexy dress and given preferential treatment.
During the live show, Laura breaks into tears and can't answer the simplest
of questios. Nonetheless, she is crowned pageant queen.
She shows no enthusiasm, aware that the judges picked her because intimidated
by Lino. Instead of meeting the press, she runs away.
She is unceremoniously picked up by Lino's men and taken to a place in the
middle of nowhere. She tells Lino that she is ashamed of the way she won.
Lino kicks her out and tells her that she is free to go.
She gets off, walks a little bit, but then walks back to Lino's car.
Lino tells her to undress, which she obediently does, and then takes her
from behind. She doesn't utter a word and lets him do it. The sex seems to
continue for several hours because they eventually drive back when the sun
is rising. She witnesses as Lino and his men kill the man who stole her cell
phone, obviously a US agent. Lino has another mission for her. They want to
take revenge on the general whose troops ambushed them. It turns out the
general will be at a hotel for a pageant celebration. Lino asks Laura to
flirt with the general, and make sure to remain alone with him. Lino gives
her a cell phone so that they will know when it is the right time to strike.
Again, Laura obediently follows Lino's orders. At the hotel she reads a
newspaper article about the bodies found in the car that she drove in front
of the US embassy, and finally realizes that Suzu's body was in the trunk.
Laura swallows a few tears and then sets out to perform her duty: she
walks upstairs to the general's room. The general is on the phone and casually
tells her to start getting undressed, treating her like a prostitute.
When he grabs her, she whispers to him that the gangsters are about to
kill him. She is finally rebelling, and presumably because she learned of
Suzu's death. The general calls soldiers to set a trap.
When the gangsters attack and hell breaks loose again, she crouches in a
corner of the room and then crawls under the bed.
Lino is killed, the others are arrested. Laura is beaten by the police
and then arrested and paraded on television as a dangerous criminal.
Her crown is revoked. Handcuffed, she is taken to a car but,
instead of being taken to the prison, she is
dropped (still handcuffed) in an unfamiliar neighborhood, apparently free
(perhaps a reward for saving the life of the general).
Metaphorically, she represents the whole nation of Mexico, a beautiful
helpless nation that at the time was being enslaved by a few brutal and
Another metaphor within the metaphor is the contrast between the
fairy-tale appeal of the beauty queen pageant and the harrowing reality of
drug-cartel warfare: she aims to enter a world of fairy tale when she dreams of
becoming the queen, but in practice she enters a world of destitution and
horror; and, when the story returns to the
fairy tale (the beauty pageant), the evocation of an opulent glamorous setting
couldn't be more incoherent with what she has just witnessed in the real world
(a massive shootout between police and cartel).
The sum of (artificial) beauty and (real) ugliness constitutes perhaps
the summary of what Naranjo has to say about Mexican society.
Technically, Naranjo loves long virtuoso takes a` la Brian DePalma, and some of them
overflow with meaning: the
festive white limousine driving through a shot showing the city shaken
by explosions; the long shot that takes her from the shootout at the border
to the stage of the pageant;
The woman is a bit too passive. She doesn't try to escape, she doesn't try
to call the police, she never says "no" to anything. She doesn't scream,
she doesn't insult him. She seems resigned to become the boss' girl.
Her only goal seems to be to stay alive and make sure her little brother
is safe. But maybe her psychology is explained by the scene in which the cop
sells her out: why rebel if there is nobody to help those who rebel?
Nothing seems to stop her from obeying the gangster:
not the realization that they killed her best friend, not moral concerns about
the people who get killed, not the legal implications of collaborating with
criminals. Sometimes her face betrays hesitation, deep troubles crossing her
mind. Ironically she finally rebels to save the life of a general who doesn't
seem to be a terribly honorable man. She does so because she is reminded of
her best friend; but that, too, was not a totally innocent person, as she was
ready to do anything to win the beauty pageant.