Miss Bala

Miss Bala

Stephanie Sigman as Laura Guerrero in MISS BALA, a film by Gerardo Naranjo. Picture courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Miss Bala

Executive Producer:
Photography Director:
Production Designer:
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* Most external filmography links go to The Internet Movie Database.

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Miss Bala (2011)

Opened: 01/20/2012 Limited

Angelika/NYC01/20/2012 - 03/01/201242 days
Playhouse 701/20/2012 - 02/16/201228 days
Regent Theatre01/20/2012 - 02/02/201214 days
AMC Empire 2501/27/2012 - 02/09/201214 days
Village East03/02/2012 - 03/15/201214 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter

Genre: Mexican Drama (In Spanish w/English subtitles)

Rated: Unrated


Set in Mexico's border city of Baja, Miss Bala chronicles three terrifying days in the life of Laura, a beautiful young girl whose humble effort to escape a life of grim poverty goes diabolically wrong. Laura's best friend, Suzu, shares her aspirations, and the night before their contest audition they go out to celebrate their dream; unfortunately, Suzu leads Laura into a seedy nightclub. When a group of armed men invades the club in a barrage of gunfire, Laura manages to hide, and survives as the only living witness to the slaughter that left dozens of hapless club-goers dead. Separated from Suzu in the mayhem, Laura embarks on a desperate quest to find her friend, only to discover that the local authorities she turns to for help are colluding with the drug lords. They deliver her straight into the hands of the gunmen responsible for the nightclub killings. Leading the group is a quietly sinister king pin named Lino, who becomes smitten with the beautiful Laura, and decides to hold her hostage and put her to work.

After successfully completing the first task assigned to her by Lino, Laura is rewarded when Lino decides to exert his influence over the beauty pageant and its outcome; his influence in this seemingly innocent contest offers a glimpse into how completely the drug gang has infiltrated the region. Driven on by Lino's promise to help her realize her dream and find her missing friend, Laura continues to do the gang's bidding. Her growing revulsion over the things she's forced to witness finally causes her to flee, and she makes her way back home. It doesn't take Lino long to track her down, however, and after he threatens her father and younger brother Laura realizes that everything that had meaning in her life -- her family, her hope for a better life, her friends, her freedom -- has vanished.

In an effort to protect her family, she agrees to serve as a mule for Lino and assist in the trafficking of weapons. Crossing the U.S. border to meet with a corrupt American officer who trades weapons for money, she inadvertently stumbles across information concerning the criminal faction that's pursuing Lino and attempting to upset the balance of power that exists in the region between the Mexican police and Lino's gang.

Returning from her mission across the border, Laura is caught in a shooting between Mexican police and Lino's gang, but is plucked out of the mayhem and whisked to safety by Lino. After sharing the information she obtained about the identity and whereabouts of the person bent on destroying his gang, Laura is driven to the beauty pageant by Lino. Injured and in a state of shock, Laura is named Miss Baja California, however, Lino isn't finished with her yet. Laura makes another attempt to escape, but Lino quickly tracks her down, forces her to endure his sexual advances, and gives her one final task. As the newly crowned Miss Baja, Laura is invited to an exclusive gathering where she's introduced to the general of the Mexican police force. Assuming she's at his disposal, the general orders her into a bedroom, where most of Lino's gang is ambushed and killed. Lino, however, is left untouched because he has sold out his gang in exchange for his freedom.

Naranjo's chronicle of an unknowing young girl's descent into Mexico's criminal underworld is a metaphor for an entire country in the grip of an endless nightmare of violence, poverty and corruption. Miss Bala is the story of Laura's broken dream, but it's also the story of a crumbling country and the lawless underworld destroying it.

Director's Statement

My aim was to create a film that communicates a certain fear that I sense in the air. The question for me was how to create images that would recreate the smell of violence and turn them into an artistic piece, with a keen spirit. That was the vision that set the background for this film.

The film I was looking for was something beyond words and certainly without a message or an anecdote. A film about crime in Mexico was something impossible to tackle, or so it seemed.

The film had to talk through images. In some contexts, I distrust words, because words are the element our society found to lie to each other. Words can be meaningless and confusing, and contribute to keep the problems alive. In this sense, a Mexican talking about crime is like white noise for me.

For a while, there was no way to make this film, until we found an almost microscopic angle. Then I knew we could make a lyrical and honest film about this events that haunt us. The premise was simple. A person with a mundane ambition gets to know the crime world.

Now we had a place to stand and begin to see the contemporary crime wave through another set of eyes, an everyday eye that witnesses how life is slowly transformed into a nightmare.

Once we had a critically important story, we had to make a film that mattered, without preaching, limiting ourselves to observe. Observe the event unfold in a precise way.

We established a number of limitations upon ourselves, with the intention of challenging us to go beyond filmmaking codes while remaining true to the idea at the same time. The film would look at the crimes in an anthropological way. We would never enter the criminal's psyche, I am not interested in the possible justifications to the criminal acts; I wanted to observe the acts in their phenomenological quality. The way their phones ring. The speaking codes. The way they dress. The faces. Again, the smell. Together it would all add to create an atmosphere.

And I feel that, luckily, besides Laura and Lino there's a third main character in the film: this atmosphere that I'm referring to.

I believe we Mexicans are a bit lost in the ignorance that comes from the infatuation with empty images from mass media. Despite our great visual traditions, Mexico carries a fetid melodramatic cultural heritage that is like a virus trying to infect everything else. In some way, I believe Mexican reality is a mirror of a bad soap opera. That's why I think it's important to create other mirrors to look at ourselves.

My ambition is to create some bond with the viewers, and offer them an alternative in the way we look at things. Something that goes beyond the media bullshit that surrounds us. I hope the film will reach people who share my feelings.

Cinema can be a thousand things. For me, it's a way to be with the other, a way to share.

-- Gerardo Naranjo, Writer/Director

The Current Drug War in Mexico

In the year 2000, for the first time since the Mexican Revolution, the opposition party won the presidential election in Mexico.

The euphoria brought on by this victory blinded the population from realizing that just as the reigning political party was exiting, a simultaneous exit of the government's ability to maintain political and social order was underway and corruption was taking over. A new force was gaining strength. A force that was making pacts between government officials and drug lords to ensure the flow of drug trafficking. This is a business that generates between approximately 25 billion dollars annually. By 2006, the year in which Felipe Calderon took office, the degree of violence in the country reached alarming levels. Human heads rolled into bars accompanied by threatening messages and dismembered bodies appeared in public places every day. It was under Calderon that, for the first time, the government decided to stand up against the drug cartels, unleashing a wave of violence that has to date killed over 35,000 people, surpassing the casualties of wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Today, these crime organizations control much of the country, giving way to massive migration. Such is the case in Ciudad Juarez, where it was registered that 200,000 citizens fled because of the violence in the city. The dominance of these crime groups has reached such levels that in states like Chihuahua, Durango, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Michoacan, cartels are those who hold governing authority and collect fees in exchange for protection, this payment is commonly known as "derecho de piso [dues]." Government agencies have no choice but to collaborate with these crime groups, resistance will only lead to more violence. In 2010 alone, 12 municipal presidents and the leading candidate for governor of the state of Tamaulipas were murdered. The salaries of state and local police forces paid to help fight the war on drugs is no match for the hefty bribes and intimidating scare tactics employed by the drug cartels.

The dispute between the various cartels to control key territories has led to a shocking death toll. Every day, two children under the age of 14 are killed working as informants or become hired killers themselves. The violence and assassinations of public figures have paralyzed the country. Police forces are almost entirely infiltrated by corruption, and fierce fighting occurs between the army and the cartels in their struggle for control. In addition, a new element has overtaken public concern: there is an increasing number of reported assaults on the human rights of Mexican citizens by the military.

The driving forces behind the epidemic of drug trafficking in Mexico are social issues including widespread poverty and a lack of education among the population. Both facilitate the recruitment of an army by the cartels. Today, it is estimated that over 50 million people in Mexico live on less than US$2 a day. There are 30 million people over the age of 15 who do not have basic reading, writing and math skills. It is estimated that in Mexico there are over three million working children of whom 30% are under the age of 14.

It is this milieu that sets the stage for Miss Bala.