Gerardo Naranjo

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

, /10

Gerardo Naranjo (Mexico, 19##) debuted with Malachance (2004). After the mediocre DramaMex (2006), that overlaps three stories, he made 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.
Metaphorically, she represents the whole nation of Mexico, a beautiful helpless nation that at the time was being enslaved by a few brutal and corrupted men. 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; etc.
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.

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 the crossfire. 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).
(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )