In ‘Miss Bala,’ Mexico's Drug Wars Terrorize Beauty

A gripping drama set in the world of Mexican drug wars is one of the strongest entries at the festival

The movies here have been gritty and real, and none so much as “Miss Bala,” a gripping drama set in the world of Mexican drug wars.

The story is told through the character of Laura (Stephanie Sigman), known as ‘Lau,’ who seeks to join a beauty contest. Instead she finds herself in the crossfire of a drug cartel attack, and is drawn into that world against her will.

I’d have to consider Sigman to be one of the discoveries of the festival. Not only is she drop-dead beautiful without any apparent makeup in most of the scenes, but she exudes exceptional dignity and humanity as a young woman buffetted by cynical politics and terrifying violence.

Nearly every scene is suffused with the violence of every day life in cities like Tijuana; the director juxtaposes the brutality of mafia-like tactics (hanging bodies, trucks used as barricades in shoot-outs with police, stacks of money taped to live bodies) with the absurdity of the beauty contest.

Laura’s involvement in the cartel escalates far beyond her control and Sigman maintains a stoic exterior even as she conveys the terror that grips her (and the audience) practically throughout the movie.

The film was written and directed by Gerardo Naranjo, clearly a talent to watch. (Mauricio Katz cowrote the script.) The dynamic duo of Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna coproduced the film, which made it worth taking a chance in any event.

It's well worth seeing. The film was co-financed by Fox International Productions, the major studio’s local language initiative. My understanding is it will be released stateside, at least through VOD and other ancillary platforms. Don’t be surprised if it wins something in the Certain Regard section where it is screening.