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Getting Picky: NYFF 2011's Miss Bala

Out reports from the 2011 New York Film Festival on the forthcoming indie films you won't want to miss.


Eniak Martinez (Miss Bala)

Miss Bala (dir. Gerardo Naranjo)

Miss Congeniality this is not. Instead of using typical pageant cattiness as fuel for the fire, Miss Bala addresses the rampant violence and corruption wrought by the drug trade in Mexico, in this case the state of Baja California. (The title references the Spanish word for "bullet.") Told from the perspective of beauty queen hopeful Laura Guerrero (an astonishing Stephanie Sigman), the film begins lightheartedly when Laura and gal-pal Suzu travel together to compete in the Miss Baja pageant. But things go extremely downhill almost immediately after both women are accepted as contenders.

Later that night, Suzu and Laura are separated at a nightclub right before the lights go out and gunmen open fire into the crowd. (The scene is a first taste of the unsettling chaos that will ensue.) Laura escapes and wanders the streets of Baja, asking around for her friend. It soon becomes apparent that Suzu's disappear has political- and drug-related motives. Mistaking the local police as potential help, Laura takes a ride with a cop who claims to know what happened to Suzu. But as the car stops at its destination, Laura is taken captive by Lino (Noe Hernandez), boss of the group responsible for the mass nightclub killings.

When Laura mentions that she and Suzu were competing in Miss Baja, Lino enters her into the pageant and fixes it in her favor, while also forcing her into a series of deadly assignments that involve an ongoing drug war. She is running on the adrenaline of fear, paraded in front of audiences in a bikini, manhandled, and driven to unknown locations in jeeps. The long, uncut shots of elaborately staged shoot-outs and pageant numbers are technically demanding and skillfully executed. Miss Bala is not the glamorous beauty-queen drama we're used to. But watching Laura simlutaneously perform in the worlds of extreme femininity and gruesome violence is truly harrowing and engrossing.

Miss Bala was shown this past weekend at the New York Film Festival. It will premiere in New York City and Los Angeles on December 30.

--MIKE BERLIN

Previously > Getting Picky: NYFF 2011's Carnage

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