Miss Bala (15)

Director: Gerardo Naranjo
Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Irene Azuela, Noe Hernandez and Miguel Couturier

Miss Bala was a surprise hit at Cannes Film Festival and I’ve been looking forward to it for a while now. I was slightly concerned about the beauty pageant aspect of it after seeing the trailer, but that was merely a sideshow to the main action.

Laura (Sigman) dreams of becoming a beauty queen and escaping her life of poverty in Mexico.  She goes to audition with her friend Suzy, and is persuaded to go to a club after where Suzy is meeting her corrupt DEA boyfriend.  Unfortunate timing, as a drug cartel infiltrates the club, led by the quietly menacing Lino (Hernandez), and a massacre ensues.  Lino takes a shine to Laura and she manages to escape, but cannot find Suzy.  Trying to get help from the police only leads her back into the clutches of Lino, who forces her into helping them, implicating herself with murder and drug trafficking. Whilst slightly seduced by the money, she tries to escape, but her attempts prove to be fruitless. In order to protect her family and find her friend, she cooperates with his wishes, The pageant is rigged for her to win, but when eventually the realisation of what has happened hits her, she is faced with a dangerous choice.

Sigmans puts in an extraordinary performance as Laura, and expect a nod for a Best Actress Oscar.  She portrays a woman at first in shock, then fear followed by flight, but her resolve is gradually worn down.   As we see Laura gradually accept her fate, only to finally be jolted into stark recognition, it is easy to believe that the events are frighteningly real.   It’s an understated performance and shows a great maturity which belies her age and experience. Hernandez is brilliant in his portrayal of a leader of a drugs cartel. He is cold, calculating and imbues Lino with a strong sense of menace and power which is simultaneously extremely convincing and terrifying.

If Miss Bala was made in Hollywood, it would undoubtedly end with some form of ultimate atonement or redemption.  Thankfully, it avoids even dipping its toes into sentimentally or over-dramatisation. Indeed, the whole film leaves you quite shaken by how realistic it seems, no supercilious stylisation or effects are employed, leaving you with a strong empathy with Laura.

Currently showing at The Showroom Cinema: http://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/missbala